Learning from disruption: Reflections from AICPA Chair

Bill Reeb headshotOver this past year, while I’ve been Chair of the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) and Vice Chair of the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, I’ve often talked with members about how technology is driving an unprecedented pace of change and how we need to disrupt ourselves as a profession.

What I couldn’t know in 2019 is the shape and extent of disruption we are experiencing in 2020. The entire professional ecosystem has been impacted by the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. In all areas of practice, members are having to adapt. Some are identifying solutions for business continuity, while others are addressing clients’ tax concerns and liquidity needs. Many members are trying to mitigate economic harm to their own small businesses and their employees.

And, as I’m sure you know first-hand, the disruption caused by the pandemic has upended many of our professional routines. We’ve had to figure out new ways to work remotely and employ technology on an accelerated timeline.

And although this experience is difficult for many of us – both professionally and personally — the challenges are also teaching us important lessons about disruption.

Technology use will only accelerate.

Before COVID-19, technology was the great disrupter of our profession, and during COVID-19, it’s what has allowed us to adapt with speed and agility. Across the board, we’re seeing an acceleration in technology use in ways big and small, from remote auditing to conducting tax return and financial reporting reviews virtually. And we are learning what works and what needs improvement.

But we won’t go back. We may learn that some things are better done in person, but we now know how technology can and should complement everything we do, from the services we provide to how we deliver them.

Beyond COVID-19’s impact, technology will continue to transform our profession. We live in an era of immense technological possibilities. In fact, it’s revolutionary: the founder of the World Economic Forum has called the times we’re living in the “Fourth Industrial Revolution.” With this revolution, it’s the combination of new technologies that is driving radical change. The intersection of technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, the Internet of Things, robotics and blockchain will reshape our world.

It’s hard to wrap our minds around what the Fourth Industrial Revolution will bring. And that’s because the pace of change is unprecedented in history. What defines this revolution is the speed of change and the scope of its impact.

So, while the fallout from COVID-19 has accelerated our use of technology, don’t expect it to slow down. During this Fourth Industrial Revolution, technology use will only accelerate.

Our role as trusted adviser is the foundation and the future of the profession.

Over the past year, I’ve often talked with members about how the future of the profession lies in our role as trusted adviser. But that future is already here. As people try to figure out their personal finances, as businesses look to survive and recover, and as the public needs confidence in capital markets, our profession is delivering trust in an insecure world.

And the importance of the role as trusted adviser will persist long after the radical disruption caused by COIVD-19 eases. Today and long into the future, clients and employers will need our expertise and experience to navigate a complex, interdependent and technology-driven world. They will rely on our judgment and leadership to guide them through change management in a world that changes at a disorienting pace. And as technology replaces the routine, rules-based functions of the profession, it’s as trusted advisers where we will continue to deliver value.

We are stronger together as one.

During this pandemic, the Association, alongside members, has advocated tirelessly on behalf of the profession and the public. We’ve called on the U.S. Congress and Trump Administration to take nine key steps, and we’ve worked to secure tax filing and payment relief in the U.S. and to mitigate economic harm to small businesses in the U.S. and small and medium enterprises globally.

In an interdependent world, thinking and working globally is the way forward. Having brought together the AICPA and CIMA to form the Association, we are stronger together as one, as the newly released 2019 Integrated Report attests.

The continuous reskilling of our profession is imperative.

During this pandemic, as we are all focused on the present and what’s immediately before us, we also cannot lose sight of the future ahead, when the profession will be called upon to help clients and businesses rebuild. We need the profession ready to meet the demands of the future, and CPA Evolution and the updated CGMA Competency Framework will help get us there. The continuous reskilling of our profession is what will enable us to remain relevant and beacons of trust in uncertain times.

Now more than ever, our members are called upon to lead, and I am confident we will rise to the challenge.

I’m grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to meet members and students this year and serve a profession that plays such vital role in supporting individuals, businesses, communities and economies across the globe.

Bill Reeb, CPA/CITP, CGMA, Chair, American Institute of CPAs and Vice Chair, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants