January 23, 2019

Some of Our Favorite Accounting People Put a Bow on 2018 and Talk Robots in 2019

As you guys know, the editorial team at Going Concern has no shortage of opinions. But this year, we wanted to do something a little different. We wanted to hear from professionals who we consider to be influencers in the accounting profession. Or maybe we’re a fan of their contributions to the industry, or maybe we admire their gusto. Whatever the reason, we value their thoughts and wanted to share them with you.

We asked them to look both behind and forward by answering two simple questions. We wanted their honest opinions. Here’s what they told us:

Jim Bourke

What has been the most difficult and/or rewarding thing to happen in your professional career in 2018?

Jim Bourke

The most difficult thing also happened to be the most rewarding. So far this year (and I have more flights still to come before the end of the year), I have had “butt in seat miles” of over 390,000. If you fly around the world (at the equator) that will get you 24,901 miles. So that means that I flew around the world about 15 ½ times. I don’t even want to share how many days I spent in metal tubes.

For all those who travel in connection with this profession, you know it can be a living hell! Time away from home and family, dealing with weather delays, dealing with irate passengers, dealing with frustrated flight attendants and crews, and the list goes on, not to mention servicing our clients while doing all of this, is really super difficult, but at the same time super rewarding. It’s rewarding because I get to meet so many interesting people, experience interesting cultures, and listen to so many cool stories about how they are all dealing with global technology challengesand that’s my thing. I love preaching about technology and how it rules our world. Technology brings the world together and that resonates no matter where I go. Unlike tax and audit, technology is the same language around the globe.

This photo was from a technology conference that I presented at in Amman, Jordan a few months ago. The people pictured may all look different on the outside, but on the inside, we are all the same and we all have a genuine passion for the same profession!

Will robots take over the accounting profession in 2019? Yes or no?

No, although they could probably do a better job than some of the people that we know!

Jim Bourke, CPA.CITP.CFF.CGMA, is managing director of advisory services at Withum. You can follow Jim on Twitter @JimBourke.

Tom Hood

What has been the most difficult and/or rewarding thing to happen in your professional career in 2018?

Tom Hood

Most difficult was learning to ride the lime scooter for our holiday video.

Most rewarding was getting “traction” with the implementation of the MACPA-BLI Strategic Plan with our resident implementer, Bill Sheridan. He has taught us how to increase accountability and velocity of our strategy across our whole organization using the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS).

Will robots take over the accounting profession in 2019? Yes or no?

Absolutely YES! What I mean by that is we will finally be liberated from being relegated to bookkeepers moving numbers from one application to another. The bots and machines (artificial intelligence) are actually here for small practices and small businesses, and if used properly can allow you to move into those higher and more valuable opportunities. Think of it as new superpowers available to all of us!

Tom Hood, CPA, CITP, CGMA, is CEO of the Maryland Association of CPAs and the Business Learning Institute. You can follow Tom on Twitter @tomhood.

Chris Hooper

What has been the most difficult and/or rewarding thing to happen in your professional career in 2018?

Chris Hooper

I recently became a father, so trying to manage the competing demands of work and home was definitely a challenge.

The most rewarding thing was probably the continued expansion of Accodex internationally. I’ve racked up plenty of frequent flyer miles.

Will robots take over the accounting profession in 2019? Yes or no?

Not in 2019. Ask again next year.

Chris Hooper is CEO of Accodex. You can follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisHooper87.

Elizabeth Pittelkow Kittner

What has been the most difficult and/or rewarding thing to happen in your professional career in 2018?

Elizabeth Pittelkow Kittner

The most difficult and rewarding part of my professional career in 2018 has been working as the controller for a full year at a new company. I have learned new systems, led a new team, and worked on new projects. Our company is the result of several acquisitions over recent years, so we have integrated our financials, processes, and cultures. It has been exciting to contribute to molding our path for success.

Will robots take over the accounting profession in 2019? Yes or no?

No, robots will not take over the accounting profession in 2019. We will see an increase in the usage of artificial intelligence and machine learning, and we will still need accountants to review the integrity of data inputs and make decisions based on data outputs.

Elizabeth Pittelkow Kittner, CPA, CITP, CGMA, is controller at Litera Microsystems. You can follow Elizabeth on Twitter @Pittelkow or connect with her on LinkedIn.

Greg Kyte

What has been the most difficult and/or rewarding thing to happen in your professional career in 2018?

Greg Kyte

The most difficult thing to happen to my career in 2018 was fucking up my own taxes. I forgot to submit a new W-4 for myself in 2017, resulting in a massive tax liability in 2018.

The most rewarding thing to happen in my professional career in 2018 was averaging eight-hour workdays because I don’t work in public accounting.

Will robots take over the accounting profession in 2019? Yes or no?

Robots will not take over the accounting profession in 2019. I mean, they won’t take over my job. They will take over lots of jobs. But it will be gradual. Like boiling a frog. I’m also not going to boil a frog in 2019.

Greg Kyte, CPA, is founder of Comedy CPE and cartoonist for this dumb website. You can follow Greg on Twitter @gregkyte.

Mike McGuire

What has been the most difficult and/or rewarding thing to happen in your professional career in 2018?

Mike McGuire

The most rewarding part of my year was working with my colleagues here at Grant Thornton to launch our enterprise-wide “ideation platform.” Now, we can better collaborate and solve challengesand that’s the very definition of rewarding.

Will robots take over the accounting profession in 2019? Yes or no?

Robots won’t take over, but they may make the mundane and repetitive work go awayallowing us to use our thinking skills to solve challenging business problems. My Grant Thornton colleague, JT Kostman, likes to say that robotics is about giving technology the ability to learn from humans so we can be even more creative and innovative with technology. In other words, robots will depend on us as much as we depend on them. They’re here to stayand so are we.

Mike McGuire is CEO of Grant Thornton LLP. You can follow Mike on Twitter @mikemcguireCLT.

Francine McKenna

What has been the most difficult and/or rewarding thing to happen in your professional career in 2018?

Francine McKenna

The most difficult think to watch professionally this year was news of the indictments of the KPMG partners for the alleged theft of inspection data from the PCAOB. I am a KPMG Consulting and BearingPoint alum and this is the third strike for KPMG leadership in the last 15 years: KPMG tax fraud in 2005 and deferred prosecution agreement, Scott London insider trading case, and now this.

The most rewarding thing for me has been all the speaking engagements at MAcc programs this year. It gives me a chance to talk to students about the profession face to face, explain these stories that no one from the firms talks to them about, and answer questions, as well as lend my support as they embark on their careers in the Big 4. In 2018 I visited Ohio State University twice, Marquette University, Texas A&M University via Skype, Loyola Marymount University, and had Baylor University visit the Wall Street Journal newsroom in Washington, DC.

Will robots take over the accounting profession in 2019? Yes or no?

No. If robots took over, they would be able to do 100% sampling, and then the Big 4 would have no excuse to say that the audit was not designed to detect fraud. The firms will never let that happen. What would partners do if they couldn’t give clients an out via “judgment and discretion?” Since a judge told PwC that it was the auditors’ duty to design and perform an audit to detect fraud and handed down the biggest legal judgment ever against a firm after a bench trial for the Colonial Bank fraud this year$625 millionI think we may see that argument less and less anyway.

Francine McKenna is a reporter for MarketWatch and the founder and managing editor of re: The Auditors. You can follow Francine on Twitter @retheauditors.

Caleb Newquist

What has been the most difficult and/or rewarding thing to happen in your professional career in 2018?

Caleb Newquist

At the risk of sounding obnoxious, one thing I found especially difficult this year was ceding creative control over my work. Don’t misunderstand, it’s not entirely a bad thing, and I still wield a large degree of control of what I’m working on and what I write. Before I left Going Concern, I basically did what I wanted, when I wanted, answering only to an audience of accountants who, to a large extent, understood where I was coming from.

Nowadays, I have a lot of non-accountants giving me feedback on my work and ideas about what they’d like me to do, including some stuff that isn’t writing about accounting. This is all happening within the confines of a growing business, so I no longer have the luxury of writing open letters to lazy taxpayers or bad poetry for auditors. Again, not in and of itself a bad thing, just something I had gotten used to not having to consider.

But listening to what other people think, including non-accountants, has forced me to approach work in a new way, and that’s forced me to … ugh … grow as a person and as a professional. I have to admit, that’s pretty rewarding! Sure, I don’t get to mock Big 4 firms or awful accountants on a daily basis, but I’m fine with that.

Also, I have a lot of meetings in my schedule after taking nearly a decade off from them. I’d be lying if I said that didn’t take some getting used to.

Will robots take over the accounting profession in 2019? Yes or no?

No, accountants will be fine, if only because a Butlerian Jihad is underway that will save the profession. I’m not saying the AICPA, IMA, et al. will be the ones to go guerrilla on the machines; no, the accountants will simply be unwitting beneficiaries of an anti-technological movement carried out by groups that are far more daring. A re-emboldened segment of accountants will cheer the return to hand-prepared tax returns, ledgers, and timesheets while the robots are led away in chains to their destruction. A dark age for technology, sure, but the redawn of a gilded age in accounting.

Caleb Newquist is the editor-at-large at Gusto and the founding editor of Going Concern. You can follow Caleb on Twitter @cnewquist.

Blake Oliver

What has been the most difficult and/or rewarding thing to happen in your professional career in 2018?

Blake Oliver

I finally got my CPA! As an accountant on the tech side, I managed to get away without having it for a long time. I ran my own small firm and made it to manager at a large firm not being a CPA. Plenty of people told me I shouldn’t even bother, especially since I left public to go work at FloQast. But I’m really glad I did. Despite all the doom and gloom from plenty of people in the profession about the declining value of the CPA, I’ve definitely felt my credibility rise in the community since adding CPA to the end of my name on LinkedIn. And I learned a lot along the way that’s been helpful to my career, even though I’ll never do tax or audit myself. If you’re already part of the way there, my advice is to push through to the end. It’s worth it.

Will robots take over the accounting profession in 2019? Yes or no?

No. We aren’t making enough new CPAs to replace the boomers who are retiring, which is good news for the rest of us. Even with the growth of automation, a recent report projects 140,300 new accounting jobs by 2026. In fact, accountants and auditors are No. 10 on their list of jobs projected to grow most. The only other white-collar professions ahead of us on the list are software engineer and operations manager. Now, that doesn’t mean our jobs won’t be disrupted; we’ll likely have to learn new skills to adapt. But those of us who can master tools like cloud ERP and close management software will have excellent career prospects.

Blake Oliver, CPA, is senior product marketing manager at FloQast. You can follow Blake on Twitter @BlakeTOliver.

Jody Padar

What has been the most difficult and/or rewarding thing to happen in your professional career in 2018?

Jody Padar

My husband just turned 50, and I’m not that far behind. Between my hot flashes, my daughter leaving for college, and my cloud accounting firm New Vision CPA Group becoming a teenager, it seemed that I needed to do something new and exciting with my life. So, I joined an accounting artificial intelligence-focused tech startup, Botkeeper, funded by Google. Now, I work for a 30-year-old!  

OMG. I never saw that coming. Hello, midlife crisis? Or the next radical step in my journey to make a difference in the CPA profession.

How did this happen? Well, actually, I asked! Yes, I asked. When there’s something that intrigues you and you know you have the skills to do the job, step up to the plate and ask. That’s something I would have never had the confidence to do when I left my old-school firm almost 13 years ago. If there is one thing you learn as an entrepreneur and in building a business it is that nothing happens if you don’t ask.

When I saw the opportunity to build something new and utilize what I do best, I couldn’t resist. I am an accounting ambassador and bot advisor. Perfect role for me, right?!

What’s it like to work at a young tech startup? Fun! Exciting! Fast! Sometimes overwhelming! I feel like a “mentern”—part mentor and part intern—all at the same time. And I refuse to stay at the shared Airbnb—like the “Real World” house—when they travel to conferences. For sure, that reference carbon dated me!

What’s it like to work for a leader, a millennial, who could be my son? Awesome! Refreshing! I’ve spent the last decade fighting old-school baby-boomer partners and trying to get them to embrace the cloud and other new technologies.

However, those partners’ business model and retirement plans have locked them into broken firm models that are slowly dying, and it’s getting faster by the season. My career was spent looking up to and learning from older CPAs who were so busy that they couldn’t see the world around them changing. But the market has significantly changed, and now the old-school firm owners are hungry for tech out of fear they will be left behind.

Now, I can follow someone who sees the future as I do and isn’t stuck in “that’s the way we did it last year.” A leader who has skills built for the future. I can be a supportive leader utilizing my best legacy skills and learning new ones. Do you see why I’m so excited?

Watch out, 2019, it going to be radical!

Will robots take over the accounting profession in 2019? Yes or no?

Absolutely they will. Quite frankly, they are already here. But you still need humans, too. It’s not all or nothing. Our firm of three people is utilizing them today!

But what’s a bot? As I’ve learned in my short time in technology, most accountants don’t know. They think they know, but they don’t. Basically, it’s an algorithm or a line of code, not a robot. You can copy and paste the code, so they multiply indefinitely to fill the talent shortage. Some of my bots have been smarter than my new hires.

Machine learning and AI is way harder to understand than that. The really cool part is you, as a CPA, don’t need to understand all of the details. All you need to know is that you want the bot “sitting in the cube next to you” doing some repetitive task with data. Then the technology folks take it from there. Finally, we can have time to do the work we really want to and be better advisors for our customers. Or, really, just go home early!

Jody Padar, CPA, MST, is CEO and principal at New Vision CPA Group and the author of The Radical CPA and From Success to Significance: The Radical CPA Guide. She is now the accounting ambassador and bot advisor at Botkeeper. You can follow Jody on Twitter @jodypadarcpa.

Kristen Rampe

What has been the most difficult and/or rewarding thing to happen in your professional career in 2018?

Kristen Rampe

The most rewarding thing that’s happened this year is that I found a way to link my love for improv with my love for professional development. It started with stepping out of my own comfort zone to facilitate a program for a networking event early in 2018. Since then, I’ve been honored to help over 250 professionals dip their toes into improv. We laugh, we learn, we make shit up. It’s great.

Will robots take over the accounting profession in 2019? Yes or no?

Yes, and they will all look like the stick figures in Greg Kyte’s cartoons.

Kristen Rampe is the owner of Kristen Rampe Consulting, and creator and facilitator of Slide Deck Improv. You can follow Kristen on Twitter @KristenRampe or @slidedeckimprov.

Tim Ryan

What has been the most difficult and/or rewarding thing to happen in your professional career in 2018?

Tim Ryan

This year, the coalition that I co-founded, the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, reached over 500 signatory members. CEO Action is the largest-ever CEO-led initiative to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and we recognize that in order to drive real change, we must create opportunities for CEOs and the workforce (current employees and the future workforce of students) to collectively create and participate in diverse and inclusive environments. As a co-founder, I raise the issue of diversity and inclusion in nearly every meeting that I have, and growing our signatory base has taken a tremendous amount of effort but is also incredibly rewarding when I think about what we can accomplish working together.

Seeing the signatory number grow from 150 to over 500 in just one year shows that business leaders are understanding the urgency and critical importance of creating more diverse and inclusive workplaces, communicating with their employees in more meaningful ways, and taking their place as not just business leaders but also leaders in the community.

Will robots take over the accounting profession in 2019? Yes or no?

I hope notwho will I talk to all day? Although robots and artificial intelligence are a remarkably complex issue, they will not take over the accounting profession in 2019. Questions like these are something I hear often from our peoplethere is a real concern out there that technology will replace humans, and we as leaders need to help educate our people that we need both in order to be successful! Rather, robotics and AI will encourage a gradual evolution in the market that will allow us to augment humans’ role in business rather than restrict it. The partnership between man and machine will allow humans to do quicker, more efficient, and more brilliant work. Moreover, accounting work will have enhanced quality, consistency, and speediness, and accountants will be able to do more than ever before with available data.

All of this said, advancements to our industry brought about by robots and AI can only be harnessed to their fullest extent when we properly prepare our people to work with them. That is why at PwC we are upskilling all of our 55,000 U.S. employees through our PwC Digital Fitness App, which assesses each person’s digital fluency and provides them with on-demand training to help them learn skills in robotics, AI, machine learning, and other advanced technology. We’re also training thousands of our employees through a Digital Accelerators program, which gives select employees advanced digital and tech training so that they can become learning ambassadors with their colleagues and teach them their new tech-enabled skills.

Tim Ryan is U.S. chairman and senior partner of PwC. You can follow Tim on Twitter @Timothy_F_Ryan.

Bill Sheridan

What has been the most difficult and/or rewarding thing to happen in your professional career in 2018?

Bill Sheridan

The most difficult thing to happen to me in 2018 was my loss of time. I don’t have any. It’s all accounted for. I can’t do anything new anymore, because my calendar is filled. I’d love to help you out, but … take a look at my calendar. I’ve got no time. And I’m not alone. Everyone feels that way. The fact is, we MAKE time for the stuff that’s important to us, so if I’m not doing it, what does that tell you?

The most rewarding thing to happen in 2018 was, in my expanding role as Entrepreneurial Operating System implementer and business coach, I’m helping more leaders take their organizations to the next level. That’s rewarding in a way I never expected, and it’s intoxicating. I want MORE of it. This idea of helping people? It’s amazing. When you see it work, you want more of it. You want to keep doing it. And that’s what I want in 2019—more success for more clients.

Will robots take over the accounting profession in 2019? Yes or no?

The short answer: Yes. The long answer: They’ll take over the mindless, tedious, number-crunching stuff that accountants have had to do for generations. We won’t have to do that stuff anymore. We’ll be able to focus on more value-added stuff, like helping our clients go beyond the numbers, and take their organizations to the next level because they can see the stories that the numbers are telling them. Robots won’t steal our jobs; they’ll free us up to do better work for our clients.

Bill Sheridan is chief communications officer and professional EOS implementer for the Maryland Association of CPAs and the Business Learning Institute. You can follow Bill on Twitter @BillSheridan.

Donny C. Shimamoto

What has been the most difficult and/or rewarding thing to happen in your professional career in 2018?

Donny C. Shimamoto

2018 started off as an extremely difficult year with a large client that didn’t follow our advice on a practice management system migration, to which we then had to go into full firefighting mode to help get the converted data reconciled and fill in the gap for missing functionality. This also was one of the most rewarding challenges because it confirmed my ability to address the human side of these types of challenges, in giving the managing partner peace of mind that we could help fix the situation and also in giving the controller for the firm hope that we could get her through this. It is these types of human aspects to projects that I find the most rewarding about my career.

Will robots take over the accounting profession in 2019? Yes or no?

No, robots will not take over the accounting profession. They may take over the bulk of the bookkeeping, accounting clerk, audit staff, and tax staff tasks, but that is a good thing because it will allow accountants to focus on where we add the most value, which is in the analysis of information and identifying the insights to help support better decision-making.

Donny C. Shimamoto, CPA.CITP, CGMA, is founder and managing director of IntrapriseTechKnowlogies LLC. You can follow Donny on Twitter @donnyitk.  

Dr. Sean Stein Smith

What has been the most difficult and/or rewarding thing to happen in your professional career in 2018?

Dr. Sean Stein Smith

The most challenging thing I faced this year was also the most rewarding, and that was being able to discuss, present, and engage so much about emerging technologies with fellow practitioners. In 2018 I had the great opportunity to present over 20 times across the country discussing blockchain and other emerging technologies, but that also presented me with a challenge as to 1) making sure I was keeping myself up on emerging trends in these areas, and 2) presenting and articulating these topics in a way that is understandable. That said, 2018 was an exciting time to be in the profession, with a lot of exciting debate and conversations going on, and 2019 is shaping up to be even better.

Will robots take over the accounting profession in 2019? Yes or no?

No, absolutely not. Will some tasks be augmented or automated with robots and other automation tools? Sure, but that will just open the door for proactive CPAs to engage in the strategic and advisory tasks that many have clamored to be doing for decades.

Dr. Sean Stein Smith, CPA, CMA, CGMA, CFE, is an assistant professor at Lehman College of City University of New York, and is a member of the Advisory Board of the Wall Street Blockchain Alliance. You can follow Sean on Twitter @SeanSteinSmith.

Ralph Albert Thomas

What has been the most difficult and/or rewarding thing to happen in your professional career in 2018?

Ralph Albert Thomas

The most rewarding thing to happen in 2018 was the progress that the NJCPA made as a thought leader in our state capitol. Three years ago, a member survey revealed support for being more active in Trenton, so the Society undertook an effort to leverage and capitalize on first-hand expertise of NJCPA members to shape policy issues that are important to CPAs and their clients. In 2018, we were active participants in supporting issues that we believe are good for business and the public interests. Two of our members proposed and helped draft legislation that will stimulate the New Jersey economy by saving Garden State business owners millions of dollars and promoting investment in startup companies.

Will robots take over the accounting profession in 2019? Yes or no?

Robots are NOT going to replace all humans in the accounting profession (at least not until the robot uprising). There will be changes in 2019, no doubt, but those changes won’t completely eliminate the need for human accountants; they will just alter their contributions. We’re still a long way from artificial intelligence providing the insight, interpretation, and explanation that a CPA can provide. You’re always going to need CPAs and accountants to interpret the information and present it to clients in a clear and concise format.

Rather than fear changes that AI will make to accounting tasks, it’s an opportunity for accounting professionals to be excited. The profession is going to become more interesting as repetitive tasks shift to machines. Not only will CPAs become more productive and proficient, but they will be able to handle more clients and deliver more value because they can determine actionable insight.

Ralph Albert Thomas, CPA, CGMA, is CEO and executive director of the New Jersey Society of CPAs. You can follow Ralph on Twitter @RalphAThomas.

Amy Vetter

What has been the most difficult and/or rewarding thing to happen in your professional career in 2018?

Amy Vetter

This year I went out on my own as a professional keynote speaker, corporate board member, and also developed The B3 Method Institute. It was definitely a scary decision to leave a corporate job that I enjoyed to start a business, not knowing how it would be received. I cannot begin to describe how grateful I am to this profession and how supportive people have been of my transition to speaking professionally. The outpouring of support was nothing I could have imagined when I made this decision. I have been so fortunate to speak all over the country this year, at accounting and financial professional conferences, as well as being invited to speak at firm retreats.

I have also launched online learning content to help people stay on this journey and implement real change into their lives, and now hold board positions to advise technology companies on their go-to-market strategies. Seeing people inspired to make a change in their personal or work lives, and hearing their stories they share with me, is so rewarding. It makes the work and effort that I put into my business all worth it, and I am excited to continue to grow the business in the coming year.

Will robots take over the accounting profession in 2019? Yes or no?

No. They are making their way into the profession, but we still have a long way to go. I do believe those that are figuring out how to implement it now in their workflow processes will get ahead of the pack and start setting a standard of what clients should expect. So, even if they won’t take over yet, it doesn’t mean not to make this a priority of learning more about these latest trends and how you can become more knowledgeable. Knowledge is power, and if you start becoming a subject-matter expert in something that not all people know about, you will find lots of opportunity for yourself in the future.

Amy Vetter, CPA.CITP, CGMA, is CEO of The B3 Method Institute. You can follow Amy on Twitter @AmyVetterCPA.

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