The power of technology to change how CPAs think about value

Hosted by Neil Amato

Amy Vetter, CPA/CITP, CGMA, wrote in 2021 that advanced technology for CPA firms was no longer a nice-to-have option; it's a requirement. Vetter shared more about the future of tech-enabled CPA work in this podcast episode.

In addition to looking forward, she also looked back — all the way to the 1930s, telling a story about her grandfather's time as a CPA and some of what she learned about him through one simple email.

Also, there's news on several fronts covered by the JofA:

What you'll learn from this episode:

  • The differences between business intelligence software and data analytics software.
  • Opportunities for CPAs looking to better harness technology.
  • What "next-level client advisory services" looks like for Vetter.
  • How Vetter's grandfather inspired her to become a CPA.
  • Advice for how the profession can move forward in assessing technology ventures.
  • A roundup of news related to the IRS, the AICPA & CIMA response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and proposed cybersecurity reporting rules.

Play the episode below or read the edited transcript:

To comment on this episode or to suggest an idea for another episode, contact Neil Amato at


Neil Amato: Welcome to the Journal of Accountancy podcast. I'm Neil Amato. This episode leads off with an interview I conducted with CPA Amy Vetter at the Digital CPA Conference in December. We will also highlight news about the IRS hiring workers to deal with its backlog, an updated statement from the AICPA & CIMA regarding Russia's invasion of Ukraine, proposed SEC rules related to cybersecurity reporting, and recruiting and retention advice for not-for-profits. You can hear all that after this word from our sponsor.

Amato: Welcome back to the Journal of Accountancy podcast. For this segment, I'm joined by Amy Vetter. Amy is a CPA who is CEO of the B3 Method Institute. She's a keynote speaker and a consultant. Amy, glad we could have you on. I'll start with this. What's the difference between business intelligence software and data analytics software?

Amy Vetter: I feel like a lot of times the business intelligence, data analytics, all of those types of terminology becomes – it seems overwhelming and I'm not sure how I would actually deliver that. The important part of understanding any kind of artificial intelligence or technology like that is to find a way to do the heavy lifting for you instead of the things that are non-value-added or that take up a lot of time that you could spend more time with your clients.

What business intelligence will do is really seek to understand what is happening in the data. It will surface certain information. Today, what we tried to do was demonstrate examples of this. First off, really trying to understand if there's a cash problem with your client and what business intelligence will do will be able quickly to surface up different information in the data to pinpoint which accounts are really the ones that are not hitting the mark and so forth.

Then with the data analytics, we're able to start evaluating and maybe forecasting or doing KPIs or other types of ratios to evaluate how we're doing compared to history or how we want to be doing in the current day if we're future planning.

Amato: Related to those tools, when should a CPA consider using one or both? If you could talk specifically about tools, are there any that do both?

Vetter: Sure, there are tools that do both or one. That is really some of your research of what you need. The goal is is that it's not just surfacing financial data, it's surfacing operational data as well and bringing the two together so you get a better understanding of what the financial statements are telling you.

In today's session, we actually did a workflow story between Jirav and, where Jirav was able to surface the information and look for KPIs that were off track as far as the cash. Then when you drill down, you saw that there was issues in how your workforce planning was going, and then we drilled down further, and it was an issue in the accounts payable area.

With that, we were able to surface that through looking at different ratios, dashboards, seeing and pinpointing versus you trying to manually try to figure that out. But then using, they were able to bring in all of the operational data to be able to tell you specifically where your workforce wasn't hitting up to the numbers of the processing of payables that you want it to be doing and so forth.

That artificial intelligence can start pinpointing things real time to let you know you're off from the plan that you expected. It's a great way to visualize how you utilize those together in order to answer questions. Then once you have that data, It's important that then you're spending time with your client to make sure that what you're seeing is what you think it is.

Or maybe there's a whole another story that you don't understand about the operations of what is creating that result so that when you go back to present to your client, It's not just pushing forward the dashboards, it's actually showing, this is what the technology showed us. This is what through our conversations, we were able to discover. Then these are the maybe one, two, or three solutions that we think that could help you going forward.

Amato: There's tools, and then of course, there are services that can be offered using those tools and a CPA's expertise. Going forward, what are the opportunities? They've got to be, I don't want to say endless, but there's got to be a lot of service opportunities for CPAs using technology.

Vetter: There are a lot of opportunities, but it does take the time to figure out how you deliver this kind of engagement. This isn't the same as doing tax returns or audits and so forth. A lot of times we make assumptions about that the client is used to getting an income statement, a balance sheet, or certain financial information and that's what we're providing in advisory services.

We could just get these tools and provide them a dashboard and hope that they understand what they're seeing. But where we really begin is selecting a niche, an area that we want to work in so that we really start to get to know that industry, know the pain points of that industry, know the KPIs of that industry, so that when we put these tools in place, it's very targeted and comparative to other clients that we have.

We get smarter as well as the technology getting smarter. If every client that we have is disparate and in different industries, it's harder for us to understand what a good number is or the solutions that other clients might have come up with or we came up with for our clients that might help another client.

We want to just really think about how the technology and the human side of this come together. Not just expecting that technology to deliver the service. Services around this, like CFO services and so forth where instead of you spending a lot of time on spreadsheets and doing these things manually, the technology is going to speed that up for you so you can get to the numbers faster, but it will give you more time to actually research, analyze, ask questions, and come up with better solutions and show you're more engaged with that client.

Amato: That gets to the people part of it. If you can have the machines doing the things that maybe you used to spend hours and hours on, you have more of that time to show your expertise and develop the relationships with your clients.

Vetter: Correct. If you want to not work as many hours, do you decide how you want to utilize these tools? It could be that you are really changing how you price engagements, the value that you're providing. It doesn't mean just because it always took you 40 hours to come up with that answer, that it still needs to come to 40 hours to deliver that service, but the value doesn't shrink if your hours do.

The value actually gets better because you will have more time to spend with your clients. But what we often forget is that clients don't value the time, they value the answer. But in our field, we've always valued our time and that's how we value ourselves, but that is not how the client perceives us.

We have to change that perception, and we're actually providing more value by having tools like this and to be able to dig deeper into the operations. You should be able to charge more in less time once you start operating more consistently with a client.

Amato: In 2022 and beyond, how should CPAs expect to interact with these tools and offer the services that we've been discussing?

Vetter: Well, first off, it's really important to set a foundation. It's not just about a plug-and-play, that you need a strategy, you need a plan, and too many times I get asked to go into firms that have gone into the service, but they're not making money and people are working too many hours, and they're not charging for everything that they're doing and so forth.

What really helps is to think through like a business owner all the components of running a business like this, and where you can start creating a repeatable process. That your restructuring the way your teams are structured, how you're utilizing that technology, who becomes an expert in different areas. Even when you put technology like this in place, it doesn't mean everybody's going to learn it. It might mean a few people are going to learn it.

Then other people are doing things that are at their expertise, and it's something for them to learn in the next year. So, as part of your business plan, there should be a learning plan, and the learning plan should be individual to different roles in the business that it isn't always same training for every single person.

It should be toward the work, the services that they are offering, and the way that they're interacting with the client. Putting that business plan in place and taking the time to do that is highly valuable because yes, it's an investment of time, but once you put that time in, you start creating a scalable business where you are profitable and you're working with the clients that you want to be working with.

Amato: There's a lot of discussion at this event and in just the past few weeks — we're recording in early December — about the CAS benchmark survey and some of the growth in services, client advisory services. But again, looking forward, what does next-level CAS look like to you?

Vetter: That you're spending more time in a relationship with a client then behind the computer crunching numbers. Today in the session, there was a question asked similar about the vision: five, 10 years from now, what will it look like? For me, I really got into this profession because of my grandfather who was a CPA in the 1930s, when there wasn't as much regulation. All the stories I ever heard about him was he was an immigrant helping other immigrants, and they bartered services and so forth just to make everybody's lives better.

As time has gone on, there's so many deadlines, so much regulation, even in the last couple of years that's gone haywire, which has pulled us away from the relationship with the client, because we're spending so much time just trying to get the work done, that that original vision of being a CPA and an adviser was to help them fulfill their dreams as a financial expert, as someone that can understand the story of their business in a way that the business owner cannot.

What I really see is that the vision in the future is the vision of what originally was a CPA, was being able to have that gift of time to utilize these tools in a way so that you can spend more time helping your clients and really understanding their businesses and helping them grow.

Amato: Tell me more about your grandfather, the CPA.

Vetter: He was an immigrant from Russia, and they immigrated to St. Paul, Minnesota, and so very poor neighborhoods and he played violin growing up and became an accountant and a CPA because he thought that that was going to be the security and financial help that his family was going to need. I think about it often, that in just two generations, the sacrifices his family made and the way that he made sacrifices himself. Think of the generations it's benefited since and the lives we have because of it.

Actually, when I was doing research on what his practice was like, he was a Minnesota state society CPA, so I had just randomly emailed their help to find out anything they had on him, and they were able to give me every office location he ever was at from 1935 to 1977 and also who he was working with.

What I found through that was his sister was an accountant and his brother-in-law was a CPA that worked in the same building as him, so what I also found interesting was that they were working in very open offices with all of their own practices, but collaborating and working together. I know that he had saved money so his sisters could go to school and so forth. It's a pretty interesting thing that the world has kind of come back around I think, to this time where we can all help each other and because of the gift of technology, I believe.

Amato: That's great. I love your research skills.

Vetter: Well, I'm thankful for the Minnesota state society, I never thought when I just messaged into the help area that someone was going to answer and had gone back and done all the research, but I think they were excited to have this research project when I emailed in.

Amato: Amy, this has been great. Anything you'd like to say in closing?

Vetter: I'd just like to say, I mean, this is an opportunity. We've been through a lot the last few years. I mean, always as a profession, but really the last few years has been hard, and it is the time to pause and really look back and say what worked, what didn't work, what can I do different. Really start planning because we've learned a lot. Maybe it's been stressful, but there's been a lot of change, and some of that change, you can look back and say, "That was really good, that was really good technology." Others, you're like, "I don't know that we fully learned it."

Instead of evaluating the technology as bad, did we do a good job of fully learning what its capability is and how we can use it? Now that we know we're in this hybrid world, let's start planning how we deliver services differently and make sure that everyone's just as passionate to collaborate with one another and really help our clients grow.

Amato: Amy, Thanks very much.

Vetter: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Amato: Again, that was CPA Amy Vetter. In other news, the IRS intends to fast-track the hiring of about 10,000 workers for processing tax returns and managing taxpayers' accounts. That's according to a union that represents employees of the IRS and other federal agencies. Paul Bonner has that coverage, which we will link to in the show notes for this episode.

Also, there's an updated statement from the AICPA and CIMA regarding the invasion of Ukraine. The first part of the statement, which will be linked in the episode show notes, reads:

"The Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, the combined voice of the American Institute of CPAs and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, will suspend indefinitely services in Russia and Belarus.

We wholeheartedly stand with the people of Ukraine and join many voices around the world in calling for peace. Our thoughts are with members, students, and staff devastated by the Russian military invasion."

Also, public companies would be required to provide investors with enhanced and standardized information about their cybersecurity practices, under a new rule proposed Wednesday by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Jeff Drew wrote it, and we will link to it.

We will also have a link to an article by Ken Tysiac that explains how not-for-profits can emphasize their advantages in a tight labor market. It touches on several strategies, including one brought up on a recent episode of the podcast, when Calvin Harris of the National Urban League mentioned "connection to the mission" of the organization. Recruiting and retention are difficult in an environment where employees have lots of options. Ken's article has comments from CPAs about strategies to stay fully staffed.

That's our episode for March 10. Thanks for listening to the Journal of Accountancy podcast.