Certified Public Accountant. Just the name most likely brings stereotypical images to mind. Perhaps the one you’re conjuring up right now looks like this…

 …a frazzled, slightly dazed person hunched over a 10-key with papers strewn about. This introvert is content to stay in the back room, with one lightbulb, frantically checking and rechecking figures, while a puddle of 10-key tape rises at his or her feet. 

…Or, maybe you’re thinking of the person you drop off your tax documents to, who is surrounded by papers and files that are held in place by a cold cup of coffee at 2 a.m. You can’t get in and out of there fast enough without your anxiety level rising, am I right?

If these are the images you have of CPAs, you’re not alone; times have changed.

Changing times and tools

The accounting profession has adapted and changed over the past several years. Some of the changes have been due to new technology. Ever changing tax laws have driven the need for increased automation. You don’t have to sell your soul to be a CPA. What you do have to do is learn the tools that will empower you to focus on the work your love…tools like AI, automation, and outsourcing strategies.

But, what has really driven the evolution of this profession is bigger than technology. It’s a combination of 2 things happening at the same time.

Tax returns by themselves have little value.

Tax returns, in and of themselves, are just a piece of history. They are not particularly useful in planning proactive strategies that help businesses grow. As such, they are commodities. Commodities have small margins. Accounting firms are businesses that seek to be profitable. 

If the only thing a taxpayer needs is to have a return prepared and filed, there are tools and technology that make this process very easy.

However, if a taxpayer with a more complex situation than a W-2 needs proactive advice on how to accumulate post-tax wealth and minimize their tax liability proactively, this is a completely different service. A service that holds tremendous value when measured against tax dollars saved and business growth achieved over time.

Small businesses’ needs have changed.

The second dynamic impacting the new role of the CPA as a business advisor is that small business needs have evolved. Greatly accelerated by the pandemic in the form of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) program, small business owners were faced with true emergencies. Where did they turn? Their CPAs.

However, aside from the needs that emerged during the pandemic, small businesses have been the backbone of America since our inception as a country. And, entrepreneurship continues to rise.

Business owners are smart, and they realize that in order to grow their businesses, they need to surround themselves with experts and outsource what they should not be spending their limited time doing. 

From bookkeeping to cash flow analysis. Bank reconciliations to “When should I hire someone, and what should I pay them?” Mergers and acquisitions to fraud prevention. 

Business owners are turning to their CPAs for advice on every facet of their business in order to build, grow, and exit on their terms. 

A meaningful impact

Public accountants who see themselves as advisors create proactive business and financial plans and leverage the tax code to help clients manage wealth, maximize deductions and credits, and become tax efficient. This is an ongoing, proactive relationship between client and CPA. 

2023’s version of the CPA in public accounting is a business advisor and someone who recognizes the value of having a network of experts to tap into for clients who have needs that are outside their expertise. They also leverage the power of their own teams within the firm, ensuring that clients have access to more than just one person. There is tremendous value in providing a team of professionals with a diversity of expertise to clients.

Hello 2023. 

Today’s CPAs are no longer your father’s stressed-out accountant because the profession has adapted to new technology, greater regulations, and resources that have enabled them to focus on higher-value services such as financial planning, business consulting, fraud prevention, and data analytics. 

With access to new tools and technology, CPAs are now able to provide much more comprehensive services and are able to focus less on transactional accounting tasks, such as bookkeeping and compliance. Additionally, many CPAs now work with teams of professionals, allowing them to further specialize their services in order to better serve their clients. All of these changes result in a more fulfilling and less stressful work environment for today’s CPAs.