CPA firms place new services atop innovation priority list

By Jeff Drew

CPA firms across the board see new client services as their top innovation priority for the next 12 to 18 months, but firms that have embraced cloud technologies see more urgency in making those additions.

That is one of the key findings of the CPA.com Innovation in Public Accounting Survey, the results of which were unveiled Tuesday at the Digital CPA Conference in Las Vegas. CPA.com is the for-profit arm of the AICPA.

A total of 409 firms responded to the CPA.com survey, which was conducted online Oct. 4–23. Of those firms, 178 were identified as early majority, which CPA.com defines as firms that have either launched a cloud-based accounting practice or made advancements in client advisory services. The remaining 231 firms were deemed to be in the general group. The early majority group had a higher proportion of larger firms (20% were associated with firms with 100 staffers or more), compared with the broader group (10% were from firms with 100 staffers or more).

Asked to name their top innovation priorities, firms in both categories placed highest importance on the development of new service offerings for clients. Early majority, however, see greater urgency for deeper and faster change than firms in the general group.

“The good news is that a solid majority of CPA firms realize they have to change to stay relevant,” said Amy Radin, a strategic marketing consultant and innovation expert, who helped design the survey and discussed some of the results Tuesday in her keynote speech at the Digital CPA Conference. “But for the general group of CPA firms, we see a sizable minority who say change may not be necessary for five years or more, if at all. Beware: Clients aren’t likely to be that patient.” 

Firms in both categories ranked time and talent concerns as their biggest barriers to innovation. Early majority, however, view processes as a bigger challenge than strategy to their innovation efforts, while the broader group of firms place a greater priority on strategy issues.

“One interesting finding of the survey is that CPA firms, early majority or not, don’t really see a competitive threat from specific challengers,” said Erik Asgeirsson, president and CEO of CPA.com. “Only a small percentage of firms said it was a priority to respond to ‘a competitor who is outpacing us.’ The problem is tomorrow’s competitor might be invisible today, and if you aren’t paying attention to client expectations, it can take you by surprise.”

Jeff Drew (jdrew@aicpa.org) is a JofA senior editor.

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