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Be open to change: Three takeaways from Digital CPA 2020


Dec 14, 2020

Every year Digital CPA brings together a community to accelerate change for clients and for accounting firms. This year was no different, but I could feel the temperature of my digital room in my not-so-digital house heat up to a new level. The vibe was contagious. Every podcast, webcast, and keynote had something to take home, and none of it would have exposed you to say, a certain virus. Here’s a recap of some of my favorites.

It took a pandemic

In Serving Clients Beyond the Pandemic hosted by’s Kacee Johnson, it was pretty clear from all the panelists that key initiatives like moving to the cloud were accelerated in 2020 by at least five years. For Jim Bourke, a panelist who runs technology initiatives at a top 100 firm, the pandemic made staff of all ages – professional and administrative – adopt video and chat, and according to Jim, there’s no looking back. 

Remote staff and clients is a key transformation that AICPA has been advocating for a decade – along with advisory. Advisory revenue, jump started by the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and forgiveness, grew very quickly according to panelists. Other silver linings included clients noticing the apps the firm is using and wanted them as soon as possible. My takeaway here is if you’re not on a shared ledger and it takes three passwords just to access the numbers, you’re not impressing in the post-COVID world of client accounting services. Another takeaway was that new clients offering cloud services themselves came in needing Security Operations Center (SOC) assurance services as an entire nation started consuming cloud services overnight. 

A lot of the initial story revolved around the cloud’s ability to enable remote work and safe meetings with clients. Germ-free work is the most obvious benefit of the cloud and is a pressing need during a pandemic. But a lot of what Digital CPA is about is not just working digitally, but being digital. This means stepping away from the grind and working on your business – and a lot of that has to do with reviewing the trends and how they’re going to affect your firm. 

What is your risk of not investing?

Tom Hood, of the Maryland Association of CPAs, specifically called out the role of technology partners like Xero in moving client accounting services forward. More importantly, the role of Digital CPA in putting together the playbook for the community to act on these trends. The first start is having a conversation within the firm about key trends and asking about what happens if you don’t invest. Asking yourself what it’s going to take to go from essential, in COVID parlance, to indispensable as an advisor. 

I really like this approach because as an accountant, we’re trained to identify and mitigate risk, and in Xero’s enterprise team that’s a big part of what we do – de-risk projects. We just do it for large firms. But what’s the first step? Being human with your partners and clients and having the conversation. Facilitating conversations like these is a key part of our enterprise implementation process. At Xero, we’re the do-it-together crowd, so as a company we by default view advisors as being indispensable. 

I talk about some of the technology trends Tom mentioned – like machine learning and robotic process automation – and how we de-risk projects across service lines in my own podcast with Digital CPA.

The top trends per Tom Hood:

  • Analytics – cash forecasting
  • Artificial intelligence (AI)/machine learning (ML)
  • Robotic process automation (RPA)
  • Cloud technology
  • Security

Be open to change

The Digital CPA event is not about passively receiving what may seem like an endless amount of technology news and advancements for client accounting services. As Elinor Litwack, Digital CPA Advisory Board member, puts it in Digital CPA It’s Not About Checking Off Another CPE – it’s about being open to change. I agree with Elinor that technology is its own body of knowledge, it certainly wasn’t on my CPA exam, but it’s exciting and it’s all out there if you’re open to change. 

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