We’ve all seen the headlines about industries that are being disrupted by younger generations, from millennials changing the way the housing market moves to Gen Z demanding more “realness” from brands. Each generation leaves its mark on the way things are done – and accounting is no different.
As the next generation of financial and tax professionals rises through the ranks, and begins building and running their own practices and firms, I expect to see big changes, especially in the balance between compliance and advisory services offered. The new generation brings different values and skills to the table than those who came before. They will take a unique approach to building and, increasingly, running their own practices that will cause a shift in the way the industry operates, for the better.
For a long time, the model in accounting has been compliance-first, with firms long focused on providing their clients with accounting and tax preparation, often neglecting to deeply develop their advisory capacities. Recently, many firms have begun to recognize that much of the work that they are already doing falls into the advisory category, and is, in fact, more valuable to their business and clients in the long run. As the industry begins to pave the road to an advisory-first model, I expect to see the younger generation hit the ground running.
This next generation will have a range of factors working to their advantage. The compliance first model is ripe for disruption, and our profession has space for talented young professionals leaving Big Four firms to branch out and build their own practices from the ground up. These new practices, targeting clients who value deeply engaged advisors, will have less to lose from mixing up their models, or experimenting with new services and offerings than established firms. Legacy firms may have owners and clients more resistant to change, or lack the capacity and patience to test new services. The flexibility of younger firms to fine tune their advisory capabilities through trial and error, and “try on” a wide range of skills before narrowing on what they do best, and, just as critically, who they want to serve, will be a competitive advantage to build advisory first firms.
In addition, many are embracing technology at an unprecedented pace, streamlining and automating previously very manual processes. Integrating technologies, such as cloud platforms and artificial intelligence, will help drive the move to advisory-first models by allowing tax professionals to engage seamlessly and in real time with clients. Cloud technologies, in particular, can provide a space to do the kind of long-term planning needed to stay one step ahead of client needs, and provide better, more advisory-focused services throughout the year.