How CPAs can prepare for accelerating tech changes

By Ken Tysiac

The rise of increasingly intelligent systems, driven by powerful data network effects, poses a threat to certain tasks and roles that have been historically performed by accountants, but this moment also provides new opportunities, according to Jeffrey Rogers.

Rogers, an educator and principal facilitator at Singularity University, spoke Sunday at the AICPA fall Council meeting in Seattle about how CPAs can prepare themselves to succeed in the profession in an environment of accelerating change.

In an interview before Council, Rogers said technologies such as machine learning models that will go far beyond what we've seen to date with robotic process automation are likely to disrupt rote tasks, compliance enforcement, and validation duties that accountants have grown accustomed to performing.

But that doesn't mean CPAs need to be alarmed.

"I think there's an opportunity to reimagine a value proposition that the individual and the organization provide and thus then to reimagine the business model," Rogers said. "And there's an opportunity … to actually engage in the process of determining what the profession and practice can look like and what the future learning models for people engaging in that profession will be."

Emerging technologies and the social and economic changes driven by those technologies will not proceed according to a linear or incremental pattern in the future, Rogers said. Instead, transformation will take place in an exponential fashion during a time of accelerating change.

Understanding the drivers of the changes can help CPAs anticipate risks and recognize opportunities, Rogers said. He offered some heuristics that can help people comprehend what changes may bring:

  • Moore's Law. This observation states that the number of transistors in a microchip doubles every two years, while the cost of computing power is halved.
  • Wright's Law. This heuristic plots the relationship between increases in total production in an industry and exponential increases in price performance of a wide range of technologies.
  • Amara's Law. This idea states that the impact of a technology often is overestimated in the short term but underestimated in the long term.
  • Kurzweil's Law of Accelerating Returns. This observation explains that technology develops in evolutionary systems and drives exponentially accelerating (nonlinear) change.

What can CPAs make of all this?

"Living in an era of accelerating change means we are living in a world that is always in the process of becoming something new," Rogers said. "Thus, we are always new to the world, and that then means that we have an opportunity and an imperative to become something new ourselves."

To remain relevant and successful in this environment, Rogers said CPAs need to:

  • Be open and willing to change. "We still, if anything, tend to underestimate the scope of the change and also the pace," he said. At the same time, "there's a lot of opportunity here," Rogers said.
  • Embrace lifelong learning. "My big interest is helping people see their opportunity … to embrace continuous learning and be in position to capitalize on the opportunities that a shifting landscape will reveal," Rogers said.

Rogers is concerned that CPAs who don't prepare for change will be left behind even as the forward-thinkers in the profession become future leaders and thrive. So while his message is aspirational, he also can serve as a canary in a coal mine if his words are heeded.

"I can do a service," he said, "by maybe lighting a bit of a fire."

AICPA Resources:

Ken Tysiac (Kenneth.Tysiac@aicpa-cima.com) is the JofA's editorial director.

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