Rick Telberg
Rick Telberg

The CPA Career of the Future

The firm of the future is already here. Technology is reshaping workflows, roles, responsibilities, and how we form and maintain professional relationships. How will it affect your career?

November 18, 2010
by Rick Telberg

If you're looking for clues to future career success, ask Lisa Cines.

Cines, until recently the longtime CEO at Aronson & Company, a top 100 accounting firm, has been named to the AICPA Board of Examiners, which works with state accountancy boards on the CPA exam. While neither Cines nor the BoE exercise sole or ultimate authority over the exam, Cines's new role in the profession and her work as a practicing professional and firm executive offer some rare insights into emerging career trends.

Until last June, Cines was chief executive at the firm she joined in 1982. But then she turned over day-to-day duties to a chief operating officer and took on the role of officer in charge of corporate and business development. To her, the job gives her license to pursue the big, strategic opportunities that are opening for a firm like hers. She is, in a nutshell, working to build her version of the firm of the future.

Cines is grappling with a handful of tectonic shifts in the world and in the profession.

First, she says, "What's shifting is how we communicate. We've gone from mail and telephone to fax and email," Cines says. "But in the future — even now — it's becoming more about communities. Relationships will always be at the core of what we do as a firm. But how we form and maintain those relationships is shifting, largely due to the impact of technology."

Instead of drumming up new business at the Chamber of Commerce dinner, today Aronson's professionals work LinkedIn and Facebook. Aronson was a pioneer when they started blogging about three years ago. And she was early to deploy sales professionals.

Cines says firms shouldn't be afraid of social media. "I bet when phones first started showing up in offices, supervisors were saying, 'I can't believe how many personal phone calls those people are making.' Then it was, 'I can't believe how they're instant messaging all the time.' Now, we've gotten over that. People will be people. They will socialize. But that's part of who we are." It's also how a CPA firm gets and keeps business ... and how a CPA manages a career.

"A few years ago everyone had more work than we knew what to do with," Cines recalls. But, defying conventional wisdom, Cines started hiring professional sales people. The payoff became apparent during busy season. "When other firms were locked away in their offices working on client deliverables," she says, "we were out in the marketplace and our competitors weren't. We were visible and they weren't."

Today Cines focuses on "making sure the business developers have the tools they need," such as the right technical experts on staff, informational webinars and seminars, white papers and informative blogs.

Going forward, Cines will be working to "do more small mergers," sell more consulting work and continue to build a portfolio of new capabilities.

For career-minded CPAs, Cines envisions a day when software, which already handles ticking and tying, will also handle routine processes from start to finish. The CPA of the future, she says, will have to be "a real thinker" and a "sub-specialist." In audit, it may mean mastering process analysis and non-financial risk assessment. In tax, it may mean acquiring deep analytical and planning skills.

For the firm of the future, it may mean a radical transformation in workflows that redefine the roles and relationships of partners and staff. "The changes in workflow," she says, "are already creating a mind shift. We're re-thinking the way we do things."

If they're re-thinking the way they do things at Aronson & Company, then shouldn't you be doing a little re-thinking too?

COMMENTS: WHAT'S YOUR DEFINITION OF "THE FIRM OF THE FUTURE?" How are firms changing? What will be the key to career and business success? Click here to email Rick Telberg.

Rate this article 5 (excellent) to 1 (poor). Send your responses here.

Rick Telberg is president and chief executive of Bay Street Group LLC, advisors in marketing, management and strategy.

Copyright © 2010 CPA Trendlines/BSG LLC. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission. First published by the AICPA.

Disclaimer: Any views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the AICPA or CPA2Biz. Official AICPA positions are determined through certain specific committee procedures, due process and deliberation.