How Do CPAs Remain Relevant in a Disruptive World? Research Points to Eight Key Competencies

With advancing technology poised to automate many of their data-driven tasks, accounting and finance professionals must master eight key skills if they want to remain relevant in a changing and complex world, says Tom Hood, executive director of the Maryland Association of CPAs.

Tom Hood

Tom Hood

As executive director of the MACPAs and its learning and innovation affiliate, the Business Learning Institute, Hood has spent the past few years analyzing the research, studies and thought leadership surrounding the future of the profession. After cross-referencing all of the available expertise, Hood has determined that future-ready accounting and finance professionals must be proficient in the following eight skills:

  • Communication
  • Leadership
  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Anticipating and serving evolving needs
  • Synthesizing intelligence to insight
  • Integration and collaboration
  • Technology acumen and data analytics
  • Functional and domain expertise

“Anything that can be automated will be automated,” said Hood. “Crunching the numbers is no longer good enough. Machines can do that faster and more accurately that we’ll ever be able to. Our future relevance depends on our ability to do the things the machines can’t do — to interpret the numbers, to tell the stories behind the numbers and make our clients future-ready at the same time. These skills will help us do that.”

Hood’s list of future-ready skills is based on cross-referencing the research presented in a number of high-profile studies, including:

  • The AICPA’s “CPA Horizons 2025” study
  • The Second Machine Age, by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee
  • Only Humans Need Apply, by Thomas Davenport and Julia Kirby
  • Humans Are Underrated, by Geoff Colvin
  • The Fourth Industrial Revolution, by Klaus Schwab
  • Future Work Skills 2020, by the Institute for the Future
  • The 2020 Workplace, by Jeanne sister and Karie Willyerd

The problem, says Hood, is that most accounting and finance professionals – and the organizations they work for – refuse to spend enough time or money to ensure that they are proficient in these future-ready skills.

“That has to change,” says Hood, “and it has to change on three levels. At an individual level, we each must take charge of our own careers and ensure that we have the skills that will take us to the next level. At an organizational level, the folks we work for must spend the time and money to ensure that their teams have the skills that will keep their businesses and their clients future-ready. And at an educational level, the folks who teach the next generation of CPAs must start including these critical skills in their curricula. Nothing is more important to our profession’s future relevance.”

“Wherever you learn the skills that will make you future-ready, insist that these eight competencies are part of the program,” says Hood. “Nothing is more important to you, your organization, or your clients.”