The AICPA has released the findings from a yearlong initiative to examine what’s on the horizon for CPAs and the accounting profession. CPA Horizons 2025 leveraged insights from more than 75,000 comments from CPAs in all segments of the accounting profession, regulators, thought leaders and futurists to highlight key trends and chart what the profession will face in the years leading up to 2025.
This major effort, undertaken in partnership with the state CPA societies, builds on the CPA Vision Project undertaken in the 1990s. The research shows that the profession—from sole practitioners to medium and large firm members to members in business and industry to those in government and academia—has a bright future and will need to respond quickly and competitively to the shifting ground on political, economic, social, technological and regulatory fronts.
Insights and directions related to opportunities and challenges for the profession emerged through the initiative. Using these insights and directions as a road map, CPAs and the accounting profession will mold their future.
Key findings included:
- CPAs overwhelmingly agreed that the profession’s core purpose, “Making sense of a changing and complex world,” remains relevant today and for the future.
- The profession’s core values remained substantially unchanged.
- The profession’s core competencies evolved to reflect the 21st century.
- The services provided by CPAs have become so varied and diverse that the concept of core services is no longer representative of the profession.
The following is an excerpt from the CPA Horizons 2025 Report. The full report is available at cpahorizons2025.org.
10 INSIGHTS AND DIRECTIONS
Through the information-gathering phase of CPA Horizons 2025, thousands of CPAs provided feedback that was aggregated into the major themes that significantly influence the current state and future of the profession. [An] Advisory Panel further examined these themes, assessing their impact on the core purpose, values and competencies. Ten key themes emerged that give insight on how the profession is conducting and will conduct business, serve clients and employers, attract and retain employees and new business and remain competitive in the marketplace.
Here are the insights along with details on how each is likely to impact the profession. (The list is not ranked, and its order does not indicate priority or weight.)
1. Technology. Understand and leverage relevant technology in conjunction with core CPA competencies to deliver superior services.
- CPAs must stay current with, embrace and exploit technology for their benefit for increased efficiency and expansion of services.
- The profession must find solutions to offer investors and stakeholders up-to-date, real-time financial information and to increase transparency.
- CPAs must embrace mobile technologies and social media to modernize and enhance interaction and collaboration with clients and colleagues.
- Fraud may be easier to commit and more difficult to prevent and detect. CPAs must continue to be vigilant in ensuring data is captured and managed properly and protected from malfeasance.
2. Pre-certification and Lifelong Learning. Evolve the educational framework to keep pace with the changing dynamics of business, government and our profession.
- CPAs must devote more time to staying current with regulations and standards and social, economic, technological and political trends domestically and abroad.
- CPAs must further develop interpersonal skills to enhance relationships with colleagues, clients, businesses and employers.
- Real-time learning in the workplace will change the way CPAs learn and will help them adopt and adapt quickly and knowledgeably to ever-changing circumstances.
- Requirements for new CPAs must remain rigorous and demanding and be practical and relevant.
- New CPAs must have a broad knowledge of business and soft skills and not simply focus on technical accounting.
3. Worldwide Profession. Position the CPA as a premier designation of the accounting and finance profession throughout the world.
- CPAs must be increasingly aware of international business issues and trends.
- CPAs must assess the trend toward outsourcing overseas and create opportunities to expand services to serve these markets.
- CPAs must continue to market the quality and value of their services in order to expand and thrive globally.
4. Pride in the Profession. Encourage pride among CPAs in the CPA profession and in the value CPAs create throughout society.
- The profession must continue to advocate on behalf of itself to ensure continued recognition as a trusted advisor.
- CPAs must uphold the integrity of the profession and maintain high standards in an ever-changing environment and in cultures where business practices differ from U.S. practices.
5. Trusted Attester. Preserve the role of the CPA as the trusted attester of financial and other information.
- The profession must stay vigilant in defending its unique role as providers of audit and attest services. All CPAs benefit from the public trust that is rooted in the provision of audit and assurances services.
- Audit and attest functions must evolve to meet changing regulatory demands and client and business needs.
6. Trusted Advisor. Promote the CPA as the trusted advisor who, in addition to providing core CPA services, develops solutions to complex problems by integrating knowledge, expertise and resources from multiple disciplines.
- CPAs must continue to evolve as strategic partners of clients, business and employers, applying multidisciplinary and integrated problem solving to expand traditional services and enhance nontraditional offerings and the perception of trusted advisor.
7. Market Permissions. Leverage the strengths of the profession to expand market permissions.
- Emerging opportunities for specialization will allow CPAs to strengthen their expertise and provide additional value to clients, employers and business.
- The profession must continue to evaluate which services it offers locally and globally and how it will deliver these services to adapt to the needs of clients, employers and business.
8. Marketplace. Address continual changes in the marketplace, economy, businesses and regulations.
- The exact nature of the work that CPAs perform must evolve to respond to shifts in business, society and technology. These changes will offer opportunities to enhance the value of CPA services, positioning CPAs to be leaders in helping clients and employers adapt to change while also responding to change themselves.
- Lifelong learning will take on greater importance as a way for CPAs to stay up to date as the pace of change accelerates.
9. Value Proposition. Increase the visibility of the profession’s value proposition by demonstrating the profession’s core values in multiple areas of business and society.
- By listening to and understanding the needs and challenges of employers and clients, opportunities for CPAs to develop services that align with core values will emerge.
- The profession must spend more time demonstrating their value to clients, businesses and the public about the role and value of the CPA in order to thrive amid increased competition and economic pressures.
10. Demographic Shifts. Continue to offer opportunities that enhance the profession’s appeal and be proactive in addressing both U.S. and global demographic shifts.
- The profession must strive to reflect the demographic shifts of incoming accounting students, clients, business and society.
- Programs offered to support minorities, women and young CPAs in the workplace must be more widely implemented throughout the profession.
- Experienced and older CPAs must continue to mentor young CPAs and identify leadership and advancement opportunities that will foster stronger relationships and loyalty.
- In order to attract and retain younger generations, employers must increase flexible work arrangements and work-at-home options.
- The profession must continue to support and enhance programs that build awareness of the CPA profession to young audiences.
Embracing the Future
What have we learned?
- It is a small world after all —every business is becoming a global business
- The future is here —embracing the future now will ensure viability in the long run
- Change is inevitable —technology is already changing the way we work … and the change will continue
- Generations are working side by side —Baby Boomers are not retiring and Millennials are bringing a new set of skills and ideals to the workplace
What must we do?
- Be open to change —embrace, don’t fear, the future
- Be nimble —adapt traditional services and establish new ones to take advantage of change
- Be collaborative —work with each other and with the global community to shape and execute the standards and services that will emerge over the next decade
- Be forward-thinking —assess and evaluate the current and future environments and plan accordingly
Core Values and Competencies
CPA Horizons 2025 asked participants to evaluate the profession’s core values and competencies established in the late 1990s in light of current and future trends. The Advisory Panel carefully reviewed and further refined each value and competency based on this feedback. The results, listed below, reflect the foundation of the unique strengths and qualities, which will continue to drive and distinguish the profession in the coming decades.
Core values of the CPA profession are the essential and enduring beliefs that it upholds over time. Core values enable CPAs to retain their unique character and value as they embrace the changing dynamics of the global economy.
CPAs conduct themselves with integrity and honesty, holding themselves to rigorous standards of professional ethics.
CPAs demonstrate superior technical proficiency by performing with a high level of expertise and knowledge.
CPAs highly value education beyond certification and continually pursue new and broad skills and knowledge.
CPAs maintain impartiality and intellectual honesty by remaining free of personal bias and conflicts of interest.
Commitment to Excellence
CPAs continually deliver exemplary, high-quality services.
Relevance in the Global Marketplace
CPAs enhance their value by meeting the ever-changing needs of the world around them.
Core competencies are a unique combination of human skills, knowledge and technology that provides value and results to the user. Enhancing the profession’s core competencies is key to sustaining a competitive and differential advantage in the marketplace.
CPAs are able to effectively exchange reliable and meaningful information, using appropriate context and interpersonal skills.
CPAs are adept at influencing, inspiring and motivating others to facilitate change and achieve excellence.
Critical-Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills
CPAs are skillful in evaluating facts, challenging assumptions and applying judgment to develop relevant solutions.
Anticipating and Serving Evolving Needs
CPAs are adept in identifying strategic directions and opportunities to meet the evolving needs of those they serve.
Synthesizing Intelligence to Insight
CPAs are expert in connecting data, performing analysis and using business acumen to provide astute guidance for better business decision making.
Integration and Collaboration
CPAs are effective at building strategic alliances and working collaboratively to provide multidisciplinary solutions to complex problems.
The CPA Horizons 2025 effort, undertaken in partnership with the state CPA societies, builds on the CPA Vision Project of the 1990s. The project included a survey, in-person forums and online discussion and focus groups involving more than 5,600 CPAs commenting on the current state and future of the CPA profession.
A 21-member advisory panel representing all segments of the AICPA membership and state CPA societies reviewed and synthesized the grass-roots input.
The results show a bright future for CPAs paired with a need to respond quickly and competitively to the shifting ground on political, economic, social, technological and regulatory fronts.
CPAs overwhelmingly agreed that the profession’s core purpose as stated in the CPA Vision findings of the 1990s, “Making sense of a changing and complex world,” will continue to remain relevant. The profession’s core values remained substantially unchanged as well, while the core competencies evolved to reflect the 21st century.
Ten key insights emerged that shed light on how the profession is conducting and will conduct business, serve clients and employers, attract and retain employees and new business and remain competitive in the marketplace.
To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Kim Nilsen, executive editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-402-4048.
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