Young CPAs learn to adapt to lead a changing profession

Leadership Academy class of 2020 - social (purple)The accounting profession has undergone major changes in recent years. New technologies are redefining client expectations and therefore how the profession works. Now, with the pandemic, the need to adapt has accelerated.

The 2020 AICPA Leadership Academy gave 29 young CPAs from firms, businesses and academia across the nation the opportunity to refine and enhance the skills they will need to meet these challenges.

“I now not only have a better understanding of the importance of having a solid grasp on what is going on in my organization and the profession, but also understand how to look at the current state and plan for the future and be ready to adapt,” said 2020 academy graduate Jessica McClain, a CPA with Brand USA in Washington DC.

The AICPA Leadership Academy traditionally is a four-day event held in Durham, NC. Because of coronavirus restrictions, the 2020 academy was held virtually. CPAs participated in interactive workshops on advanced leadership training based on their character strength profiles. The academy included presentations from some of the profession’s top thought leaders, as well as networking opportunities. This year’s class was divided into five cohorts, each with a separate executive leadership coach.

Attendees discussed key issues and interacted with influential leaders in the profession, including Tracy Golden, CPA, CGMA, AICPA chair; Barry Melancon, CPA, CGMA, president and CEO of the AICPA and CEO of the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants; Sue Coffey, CPA, CGMA, AICPA executive vice president — public practice; and Tom Hood, CPA/CITP, CGMA, CEO of the Business Learning Institute.

Josh Russell, a CPA with Patterson, Prince & Associates PC in Florence, AL, said he was surprised by how much all the attendees had in common.

“Whether we came from a large, medium or small firm, industry or organization, we all had many similar successes, struggles, stories, wants and experiences,” said Russell, a 2020 academy graduate. “Sometimes I think we treat public accounting firms like each group is in its own bucket based on size, but we all have things in common.”

Lauren Uraski, a CPA with StoneTurn in New York and a 2020 academy graduate, said the academy helped her understand her values and leadership traits, which will help her relate better to colleagues.

“The feedback through the leadership profiles, plus an awesome coach to learn with, was really eye-opening,” she said. “Knowing my values and tendencies will allow me to be more intentional in my decisions and action.”

One current that flowed under all the discussions was the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the profession and the greater world.

“COVID was really a catalyst for many changes the profession has been discussing for some time,” said 2020 academy graduate John Confrey, a CPA with Mazars USA LLP in New York. “The profession can sometimes be slow to change, but COVID proved we can be adaptive.”

The accounting profession, particularly for younger CPAs, has a reputation for long, rigid office hours. The pandemic forced firms to adopt remote working and flexible schedules as well as rethink processes and efficiencies.

Some are optimistic that the pandemic will spur the profession to more quickly and readily adopt new technologies into their practices.

“Organizations that had not implemented remote-working technology and digital, cloud-based systems have struggled in this environment,” said Russell. “COVID has shown that we have to embrace technology or risk dying out.”

As the profession and CPA licensure model develop, technology skills will be in greater demand. Confrey said he looks forward to seeing the potential they offer in the profession.

“I see technology as a way to minimize routine tasks, allowing professionals to spend more time using their creative skills to problem-solve for their companies or clients,” he said. “I’m most interested in implementing robotic process automation [RPA] to improve processes.”

Learn more about the AICPA Leadership Academy or apply to be part of the 2021 class today.

You can also stay abreast of the latest trends, technology and topics in the profession through AICPA webinars, such as Robotic Process Automation Strategy for Business Leaders, Blockchain for Financial Advisors and the Data Analytics Executive Program.

Association Staff