Ensuring the future relevance of CPAs is something that I think about virtually every day as president and CEO of the Illinois CPA Society. I've said it before, but I'll say it again: We are facing a pace and type of change unlike any we've experienced before in the CPA profession -- the rules of the game are literally being rewritten by technology. Artificial intelligence and robotic process automation will forever change accounting, audit, finance, tax, and more. The ways we provide services to companies and clients certainly won't change overnight, but that doesn't mean we don't prepare for the dramatic changes coming ahead. The greatest challenge I see facing the CPA profession now is just how, exactly, CPAs evolve to continue providing truly valued assurances and insights.
For decades, CPAs and their associations -- like the AICPA, and even your Illinois CPA Society -- have cultivated the CPA brand as the "most trusted business advisor." Trust is at the core of everything we do; it is something to be very proud of. That said, trust is -- and always should have been -- just the beginning. Why? Because "trust" literally means something different to each and every one of us. I've asked countless CPAs what they think it means to be the "most trusted business advisor." The answers are all over the board -- accurate, dependable, knowledgeable, trustworthy, etc. While trust is critical to the credential, I contend value is what ensures companies and clients continue to rely on their partnerships with CPAs.
To be truly valued as we race into the future, CPAs must make the shift from being the most trusted business advisors to being the most trusted and strategic business advisors. Strategy is where there's value. Strategy cannot be replaced by technology. And what I mean by becoming a strategic advisor is that you shift your focus to helping your clients and companies increase their profitability through increased revenues or decreased cost structures. An audit, no matter how clean it is, doesn't drive profitability. A tax return or tax plan may help an individual's wealth, or these could lower a company's costs, but they don't typically lower cost structures. As CPAs, we have access to almost unlimited client and company data; we need to use it. We need to become providers of strategic advice and real profitability drivers.
Now, I've heard many reasons why CPAs can't be strategic advisors. If you're an auditor, you may say that it's a violation of independence. However, there's no issue with supplying a client with a historical analysis of days sales outstanding, or DSOs, which can drive increased cash flow. Every audit looks at obsolete inventory, but does it look at inventory turns which can change a company's cost structure? I've heard people say that clients won't pay for strategic advice. Have we tried? Often, people say that they simply don't have time to provide these types of information or insight. Well, with the way the world is changing around us, we may have plenty of time in the future if we don't become strategists.
There's an almost endless list of reasons, roadblocks, and excuses for not acting as a strategic advisor. However, as our profession advances and typical compliance services diminish in value, I don't think we have any choice but to change. The Illinois CPA Society's mission is to "enhance the value of the CPA profession." To do that, we must ensure the CPA's relevance for generations to come. My commitment to you is that we will help lead the way, working diligently to change public perceptions, rebrand CPAs, and provide a road map to achieving the skills and knowledge for long-term success.
Becoming the most trusted and strategic business advisor is an evolution that we are committed to. Together, we can ensure both the relevance and value of our profession for years to come.