The accounting and finance profession as we know it under assault. New technologies, staggering legislation and regulations, demographic shifts that are reshaping the face of workforces — we’re experiencing change and complexity on a level we’ve never seen before.
Or are we?
In a way, when you think about it, none of what we’re experiencing right now is new. All of the thought leaders out there are calling this “the Fourth Industrial Revolution.” Know what that means? There have been three other industrial revolutions before it. We’ve gone through massive change before.
- The First Industrial Revolution took place from the 18th to 19th centuries in Europe and North America. It was a period when mostly farm-based, rural societies became industrial and urban. The iron and textile industries, along with the development of the water wheel and then the steam engine, played central roles in the Industrial Revolution.
- The Second Industrial Revolution took place between 1870 and 1914, just before World War I. It was a period of growth for industries like steel, oil, and electricity, and used electric power to create mass production. Major technological advances during this period included the telephone, light bulb, phonograph and the internal combustion engine.
- The Third Industrial Revolution, or the Digital Revolution, refers to the advancement of technology from analog electronic and mechanical devices to the digital technology available today. The era started during the 1980s. Advances during the Third Industrial Revolution include the personal computer, the Internet, and information and communications technology.
- The Fourth Industrial Revolution — where we are today — is basically the digital revolution: Robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, quantum computing, biotechnology, the Internet of Things, decentralized consensus, 3D printing and autonomous vehicles.
So yeah, we’ve been through massive change before — eras in which we’ve had to transform our business models to dovetail with the changes of the day. The only difference today is that these changes are happening faster than ever, which means we have to be more agile than ever, ready to shift with the next big transformation.
And that, in part, is Bill Reeb’s message to the accounting and finance world.
Bill Reeb is chief executive of the management consulting firm Succession Institute, LLC. More important, he is the new chair of the American Institute of CPAs, and he has a message for members of our rarified profession:
Forget what you know. The world’s a different place.
In this conversation, we cover:
- Why there’s a succession problem in our profession. (Spoiler: It’s our fault.)
- Why we’re not going to become software developers, but why our profession is going to be based in technology.
- How to bridge the gap between who we are today and who we need to be tomorrow.
Bill Reeb’s advice for accounting and finance pros
When Reeb was elected chair of the AICPA, he shared four pieces of advice for today’s accounting and finance professionals. These come straight from the AICPA. I quote:
- Number 1: Let go of what you think you know. Reeb is a martial arts black belt. He says martial artists are “big on humility” – and accountants should be, too. Part of that involves rigorously reexamining past lessons and work methods to see if they still hold true in a time of great change.
- Number 2: Accept that technical aptitude alone will not be enough. Familiarity with technology and continued improvement in human skills – critical thinking, judgment, leadership – will also define accounting professionals in the future. “This powerful combination of our technical expertise, technological understanding, and enhanced human skills are foundational to positioning ourselves for a brighter future,” he said.
- Number 3: Challenge what it means to be an ‘accountant.’ That means providing higher-value strategic guidance in core service areas such as audit, tax and finance, broadening tax practices to meet the growing need for a more integrated life planning approach for individuals, and extending assurance into emerging areas such as cybersecurity risk management, sustainability and supply chain.
- And Number 4: Embrace a disruptive mindset. “We need to shift our thinking from what our profession is and what we do today to what our profession should be and what we need to be doing tomorrow,” he said.
I’m really excited to have Bill Reeb as my guest on this week’s show. He’s outspoken. He’s opinionated. He’s not afraid to say what he thinks. That alone is reason enough to sit down with him. But he’s also passionate about the profession and it’s future, and today we need someone like that ready to lead us into an exciting and uncertain tomorrow.
Good stuff here. Here’s my conversation with new AICPA Chair Bill Reeb.