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Todd Shapiro on the impact of COVID-19 on the accounting profession

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This episode of the Sage Advice podcast features Todd Shapiro, who is the President and CEO of the Illinois CPA society, one of the largest CPA societies in the nation, representing more than 23,000 accounting and finance professionals. Prior to joining the society in 1998, he amassed 20 years of financial managerial experience as the director of finance for Unilever, a multinational consumer packaged goods company. Todd is regularly recognized as a thought leader in the profession and has been named to the Accounting Today’s list of Top 100 Most Influential People in accounting for the last five consecutive years.

Why do you do what you do?

Todd Shapiro: I love a challenge. There is what I refer to as the business of business. It is moving things forward. It’s the challenge of trying to advance a thought.

Now I work to represent the accounting profession. It makes more significant impact because it is no longer about pushing a product. It is about advancing and advocating for an entire profession.

If you can help somebody do better in their career or better in their practice to better themselves. There is personal satisfaction that.

What trends do you think have been accelerated because of COVID-19?

Todd Shapiro: Historically, for a midsize firm or smaller firm, they were always trying to keep up with technology. The idea of being in the cloud, of having a remote tools was gaining importance. But then all of a sudden, one day…I met with my leadership team on March 12 and on March 17, we said we’re going remote.

There was no time to go, “Oh, let’s go on shop for the best software.” This was overnight.

In the profession, we very quickly had to embrace that. When we talked with some firms, their staff is remote, but they had clients that did not want to go remote. I have clients that won’t go into a portal.

One of the things we learned is you can have the best technology in the world, but if your client only wants to mail a paper check, then somebody’s got to get that check, put it in an envelope, and it’s got to get a stamp. It’s got to go to the post office. Then, it’s got to get picked up from the post office. That became a challenge.

So, I think even those firms that had done a lot asked if [their technology tools] were truly end to end.

Are they truly encouraging or trying to really push their clients to embrace the technology, at least to the point where it was useful and helpful?

If you are in a firm or if you are in a company—look at the systems within the company. Are you really ready end to end from a technological perspective? And that’s just the basic technology. That’s not talking RPA or AI, which I think will be the five most impactful letters of this profession will see in the next 25 years.

I’m an absolute believer that that we are going to be looking at revolutionary change in our profession within the next seven to 10 years. I know people will say we have been through change since Excel, but I think we are going to be looking at a revolutionary change.

We also believe the CPA needs to move into a more strategic and trusted advisor. This was a time where businesses really needed help. In some cases, CPAs helped people fill out a PPP application, they may or may even help them with a cash flow forecast, which is ever so critical in helping businesses survive and thrive.

But this also was an opportunity for CPAs to go to their clients or their companies and demonstrate that you can help them become more profitable. You can help them figure out how to manage their expenses different. Who knows more about a business, then than the CPA?

I think we need to move past compliance.

Is there anything that you think that is not going to stick?

Todd Shapiro: I think the real question is, what is our style of work going to be? Different people have different views on whether or not firms are going to go to 100% remote environments.

But how do you keep [an office] culture? I’m not saying you can’t have a positive work culture and a remote environment. But it’s a different way of managing it. I don’t know if staying remote will happen.

I think people like to interact with people. Maybe that’s old school. I don’t think it is necessarily because I know people of all ages think that.

I do think we’ll see people back working with clients, physically working together in offices because it is a good way for people to interact, share ideas, and thoughts in a much more casual setting.

That may be the one thing that won’t stick. I hope the rest of it does.

 

 

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