With Dan Hood, David Bergstein and Jasen Stine
Continuing the theme of special episodes around the century mark, The Unique CPA presents a re-broadcast of Randy Crabtree’s recent appearance On The Air with Accounting Today. Host Daniel Hood leads a discussion with Randy and other guests David Bergstein and Jasen Stein of the AccounTrends Podcast focusing on the future of accounting and how best to stay on top of all the changes the profession is undergoing.
Welcome to On the Air with Accounting Today. I’m Dan Hood, editor-in-chief — and welcome to The Unique CPA podcast and to the AccounTrends podcast. Now, if you’re wondering if you somehow dialed into the wrong podcast, you definitely haven’t because in fact, you are listening to what might be the greatest podcast of all time. Why? Here’s we’ve got three of the great accounting podcasts hosts with us, starting with Randy Crabtree. He’s the host of The Unique CPA podcast, as well as the co-founder and partner at Tri-Merit Specialty Tax Pros. Randy, thanks for joining us.
Well, thanks for having me. This is going to be a lot of fun.
It is. And not least because we’ve got David Bergstein, a bon vivant, a pickleball guru, a CPA, a longtime thought leader in both the accounting and the technology worlds and co-host of the AccounTrends podcast. David, Mr. Bergstein, thank you again for joining us
And thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here with these three other individuals. You’re included.
Alright, well let’s introduce the last but only alphabetically host we’ve got with us and here really to keep an eye on Mr. Bergstein, make sure he doesn’t get out of line, is his AccounTrends co-host Jasen Stine, who during the daylight hours is the tax and education leader, Intuit Accountants. Jasen, thanks for joining us.
Honor to be here. Dan and I, I’m not sure who keeps who in line when it comes to me and David.
Either way, if you could just both restrain yourselves, that’s all we’re asking.
No, seriously. What happened is we recently realized that between the four of us, we’ve probably interviewed just about everybody that there is to interview in the accounting world as well as maybe and a couple of extra people who in retrospect maybe weren’t the best choices and we apologize for those, but let’s not name names. Let’s instead focus on the fact that it did occur to us that it would be interesting to share some of the best, most interesting things that we’ve learned from all those combined hours of talking to all those experts and all those stunt leaders and all those people who play such a major role in the field. So I mean, basically what we’re going to be talking about today is what’s the most interesting, the most valuable, most unexpected thing that you learned from a guest on your podcast. And Mr. Stein, I’m going to let you go first on this. As for all your hours of podcast hosting, what thing stands out for you where you’re like, wow,
What’s wowed me the most is that accounting is not going away. As much as people say technology will drive it away, it’s just changing what we do as accountants. It’s actually raising the value of what an accountant does from doing the real work to doing what I’ll say is the future of accounting. It’s really FP and financial planning advisory services. It’s taking all that information that can be automated and helping the client make decisions. So I think the biggest thing I’ve learned from everybody, no matter what they say, they all seem to say the same thing. We’re using technology tools, but it’s all about this. It’s all about that. But what it really comes down to is there’s a great future in accountant accounting and I strongly recommend young people on the go to college take accounting because is something they can always find a job in.
I got to say that makes perfect sense to me. That was not the thing I had chosen, but it makes sense. Everyone I talk to is super excited about the future of the profession. There are some obstacles, some hurdles, some barriers, that sort of stuff. But yeah, there is a tremendous excitement about the value of the field, just the sheer profitability of it, but also the variety in it and the excitement about it. Randy and Jasen, are you seeing similar things? Is that resonating with you among all the folks?
Yeah, so yeah, for sure. I mean, anything David says I agree with for sure. I mean, it’s always been the case. David taught me everything. I know for the last 15 years it’s been great to know him for a long time. But the one thing, I’ll take it back, one thing that I didn’t learn from him, and I learned from you Dan, was the ESG and all the audit that’s going to be based around that and the compliance work. And I wasn’t even thinking about that. And so what David just said that the county’s not going away. I always thought in my mind, well is audit and trouble, but the way you explained it to me a few weeks ago, audit’s going to take off, especially with the ESG and cybersecurity and all this stuff. So yes, I agree completely what David said. We are in a great profession and there’s a lot of opportunity and it’s not going away.
Jasen, do you agree? I mean you were on all these podcasts with David. Is he just misremembering this wildly or the same similar sort of thing? There’s great things going on in accounting. Well,
David says a lot of things, but he’s dead on right. And per Randy’s point, the way I would kind of take it a step further in my mind, being connected with David and being able to bring on the multitude of guests on AccounTrends has become my most favorite thing to do here at atu because I get the opportunity to learn from all these amazing people that are really in touch with what’s going on and all the way from the big thought leadership gurus to consultants that are regarded by the large firms and learning from them what they’re hearing, consulting with partners. This profession is in the thick of an evolution we’ve never seen before and it is incredible to see and we’ve known it was coming, but it’s kind of now finally culminating and you’re seeing it show up in so many different ways from technology automation and disruption to even the introduction of private equity into, not that this is the first time in history that’s happened, but you’re seeing it in a way that’s very interesting.
And I think there’s another podcaster that talks about the end of the partnership model that’ll be interesting to see what’s going to happen there. And then I love David’s point too about the young people. We have a bad rap in this profession that it is a bunch of guys with green visors and a calculator that has the tape on it. And all we do is just number crunch all day long. And that’s just simply not true anymore. In fact, that part of the work we’re trying to push and automate so that we can really evolve into helping clients achieve their dreams.
And that’s truly what’s happening—the more progressive CPA firms are changing their model and their role. I know Randy wants to talk about culture, it’s not about working 170 hours a week. It’s about changing that. And I see CPA firms starting to level off the salary, raise the salary, raise the bar. So people seem excited about going into accounting and knowing that it’s going to be different.
Yeah. So based on what David just said, there’s two things. One, yeah, the salaries are going up while the hours are going down, which is I think going to be extremely important because burnout has been such an issue with our profession overall. And people are learning with Jasen, what Jasen just said, with technology implementing that they’re becoming more efficient. You could use technology to become more efficient and free up more hours and work more hours at a higher rate, or you can use the technology to reduce your hours, make as much or more money. And I think that’s going to be an important decision that people have to make as we go forward. So yeah, I agree with that and it is an exciting time for sure.
Yep. There’s no question. Yeah, as I said, I hear that sort of everybody to talk to, there’s really an enthusiasm for what’s going on and a feeling that things are going to be great. Things are already great, they’re only going to get better as people do. I mean, she’s talked about raising salaries in lowering hours and making things, making it a more worker friendly and employer employee friendly sort of environment that all those sort of things. Once we get on top of those, it’s really a spectacular time both to be an accountant, tend to be running an accounting firm. I’m going to throw in mind because we’re all podcasts out here, we’re just nothing but us chickens here. So I get to throw in my thought for which is a much small, more narrowly focused idea. And it really came out, not out of nowhere, but to me it came out of nowhere, which is a long time ago, the Maryland Association of CPAs under Tom Hood was working with a futurist named Dan Burs who has an idea about the anticipatory organization.
And his whole approach is that basically you can predict the future, right? Yeah, sure. There’s things you can’t predict about the future, but there’s a lot of things that you really can that he calls those hard trends. And there are things that when you look ahead, there’s things are going to happen and it’s silly things like the sun is going to rise every morning and that’s the start of it. Then you go from there and you’re like, okay, great. The year will cycle. There will be winter, there will be a holiday sales season, there will be a summertime, there will be a tax deadline. These things are going to happen for instance, that all the baby boomers are going to get older and eventually, well, let’s say just eventually retired. They’ll do other things eventually later on. But let’s just say retire. Play pickleball. Play pickleball, there you go.
But all these things, demographic trends that are happening, there’ll be a presidential election. We hope every four years that there’ll be a midterm election. Every two years after that we know these things are going to happen and there’s all kinds of things on the calendar and things in demographics and things and just the nature of people and the nature of the year and the physical planet we’re on that are going to happen. And then when you start to think of things that way, you also start to realize there’s all kinds of other things that are going to happen. Things like there’s going to be a class of people graduating from college every year. All these sorts of things that go into creating this framework of things about which you can make predictions and then build business decisions around those predictions to a degree that I hadn’t really thought was possible at all.
And when he walks you through it, it’s amazing working with the Maryland Association, and this is a shameless plug, I don’t mind doing it, I hope they’re still doing this program, but they created something called the Anticipatory Calendar, anticipatory CPA Firm, which was a whole program where you could train your firm to learn how to build these trends. And there are firms that have based their whole business plan on it or big parts of their business plan on it. And it’s just a neat idea that I had never really considered. It was like, wow, you can actually to a certain degree and in certain areas predict the future. I thought that was really cool. And like I said, it’s ties into all the other things because I know we know there are firms that have used that to create a whole exciting new service areas to integrate technology better into their practices to build a lot of the excitement that all four of us have seen from our guests. And I think our sort of feel ourselves. So that’s sort of my one where I was like, wow, that came out of nowhere and I had no idea what it was and I just sort of blew my mind. Blake said it’s a smaller idea. Want to, are there other things that you loved that a guest said that you were like, wow, that’s amazing. Anybody want to jump in?
Well, and Dan, if you don’t mind just talking to your point for a second there, I think there’s a lot more power to that than you are giving it credit really, because I say all the time we’ve been talking about advisory services for 20 years. I remember being on the road with Joe Woodard 20 years ago talking about value pricing to people and everybody going, that’s so awesome. And then here we are 20 years later and people still had not gotten it done. And so that’s kind of one of those softer trends. Trends. Now it’s taking hold a little more strongly, but there’s still a lot of ambiguity about it. There’s still a lot of people saying, I don’t know where I’m supposed to start with this. And then you think about the big firms man, they’re having to spin off a whole different firm to be able to do it because the structure of the business just isn’t conducive.
It doesn’t lend itself to those types of services based on the way we’ve been working traditionally for the last, I don’t know, century or more. And so then there’s the hard trends of tax trends never going away. But there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that automation is speeding up that process. Will we ever fully automate tax compliance or bookkeeper? Probably not. Our teams at Intuit, we were shooting for like 70, 80% kind of that range of we can get a good majority of automation done, but it’ll never fully do it all. But that trend is a hard trend. Nobody can refute it.
Yeah. Things will get more automated. Yeah, absolutely. And that’s, that’s a great example of the kind of trends cities he’s talked about, right? Things you just know are going to happen, even if we can’t predict, it’s probably safe to say that in 30 years all tax compliance will be automated. It’s just a question of when in the next, oh, what year in the next 30 will it happen? It’s probably not going to happen in the next 10, but who knows?
And that’s the beauty, you know? As much as you can be the anticipatory accountant in the anticipatory organization, you don’t know what’s going to happen because change comes so fast just like ChatGPT, all of a sudden in November it appeared and what we got millions of users of ChatGPT, good or bad, there are good things it does. There are bad things it doesn’t do for us to board. But all of a sudden from OpenAI to Google to Bing and now all of a sudden Bloomberg is jumping into the field of it and that changes the tools that you have. And I guess I can look a little different than all of you. I even remember Daniel Hood before he was editor of Accounting Today, when he was a cub reporter in the old days. And everything that we’ve been trying to do, I go back to this 1989 AICPA project that talked about the future in automation.
Actually, everything they said back then is what we’re trying to do now, but technology is changing it. Like Tri-Merit wasn’t even born when I started. [Randy] was busy running to bars, and all of a sudden from being a bar craft expert, he created these tools that became a great educator on Employee Retention Credits across the board. And he probably didn’t even think about Employee Retention Credits five years ago.
Well, nobody did! Well, I guess they may have existed for different areas other than the one we all know it for today. But yes, for sure.
But what’s great is, he took advantage and he jumped on it, and that’s what he did.
Yeah, so Dan, you taught me something already today, which is awesome, and David or Jasen, somebody already said it. Every time I’m on a podcast I’ve learned something, which is so amazing and I never anticipated that—I maybe should have in the past—because I know not that I’m an expert at all this stuff, but I’ve learned so much.
Not that I can go out and tell everybody everything that I’ve learned, but I’ve absorbed a lot just by being a podcast host. But I think one of the things that I have seen and I think ties into this exactly is this: You can anticipate change, but you can’t always predict what it’s going to be. So you have to be flexible in what that change is. And Jasen said it too, or no, David did, with the ChatGPT, and now they’re talking about in the next couple weeks, AI is going to be able to read documents off your desktop if you let it. It’s not just there, it’s not going to read it, but if you let it, and being able to convert a W-2 into—just import it into a tax return.
So this is change I wouldn’t have thought of a year ago. I mean we know that you’ve got these things that could read the W-2, and it could take data off, but this sounds like it’s going to be really creating significant change going forward. And so I think that’s the one thing we can anticipate that we can’t predict that there’s always going to be change, but we have to be flexible to make sure that we are able to take advantage of whatever direction this change is going. And sometimes people don’t do that.
Two quick things and then I want to call on Jasen real quick on this one. I think Jasen, to your point, I think one of the things that is a hard trend is that you can assume that any new idea that comes into the accounting profession, you can predict that it will take between five and 10 years to get adopted. Hey, you can’t say how much of it’s five, sometimes it’s 15, but we won’t get into that. But you can predict that it will take a while for it to get adopted. On the other hand, the pandemic is a great example of the kind of thing you can’t print predict, right? That it’s the kind of black swan kind of thing though, to be fair, lots and lots of people were warning that something like the pandemic was coming for about the last 20 years.
But anyways, but those are good examples of random things that might happen. But I was curious, I just wanted to give you a chance to jump in on this Jasen, because when I was talking about how soon it will be before everything is automated for tax return, you were kind of like, eh, I’m not so sure about it. I didn’t know if you wanted to throw out some thoughts there. Well, because we’re here, we’re out making wild and totally unsupported assertions about things, or at least I am want all of you to feel comfortable to do the same.
No, I appreciate that Dan. Yeah, I was kind of like, nah, I don’t, the rate of acceleration that I’m seeing and with the power of AI technology, I mean ChatGPT aside, a lot of our customers don’t even realize that scan and import technology that you talked about, Randy, we have AI algorithms make that better every day. Actually when you interact with that tool, it sees if you’re changing a number that it’s spit out from the OCR tech. I don’t even think we’re using OCR anymore. It’s something evolved from there. But it learns. And if enough people train the algorithms by continuing to work with it and correct it, it gets better and smarter. And that was a big surprise to me and the evolution of AI. I didn’t think we were going to get to that level of AI by this point in time in our human history.
And we get scared about the thought, the concept of AI learning, but it’s not just learning like our brains do—it’s learning in a very directed, targeted way that the engineers have built it to look at and do. And so I think that’s really, really interesting and I think AI is going to have a profound impact on our profession over the next five to 10 years.
Now, I respectfully disagree with the, “we may someday get to a point of complete automation of tax returns.” I think you had made that point, Dan. And I mean I’m not putting that idea completely out. I’m sure it’s possible, but I think the way that would show up is if we adopted a system where we no longer are independently doing our tax returns and the government just sent us a bill at the end of the year, and that’s not really automation, that’s just a change in political landscape.
I disagree with you on that.
Yeah! I love the discourse.
I believe that there’ll, there’ll be total automation. And again, as things keep changing, you don’t rule out we don’t know what we don’t know. So I think there will be total automation cause someone’s going to put it together because if everything’s digital and everything can be extracted in some shape, manner of form, someone’s going to find a way to do it. So I’ll disagree with you on that.
But it is, I mean Jasen’s point that it’s a huge political question is, I mean think that’s no question. Right? That’s an excellent point. And we talk about, oh, automation’s just going to happen. There will have to be some kind of political argument about it because it will be a big argument and it’s entirely possible that the right argument, which is that everything should be automated may lose. At least that’s my take. This is not the opinion of anyone else or of accounting today, only myself. But anyway, sorry, we keep leaving Randy out.
No, no, I didn’t want to jump in. You guys are, you guys are my idols, so I’m not going to talk over you,
Man, you are my idol! You’ve taught me a lot.
The feeling’s mutual, Randy.
Jasen and David are about to fight over when taxes are going to be automated. So I need you to come in here and cool things.
We fight all the time.
So I’m kind of taking both sides on this. Yes, I can see a hundred percent automation of compliance if we just want to be straight compliance, you can go pull the W-2 off of ADP and your Merrill Lynch statement and all this stuff can come in—and so compliance. But then what Jasen already mentioned is the advisory, and Dan is what you said, as long as there’s political aspects to the tax code, and we’re putting incentives in the tax code to do something in their economy, the advisory part is where I see less automations coming because that’s more coming up with subjective ideas that are based on tax code.
So I still think it will be needed, but a big point, I think the cool thing is, we’ll be needed at a higher value service than just compliance, and compliance is great and people do compliance alone, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s completely needed. But when we can add that advisory part to it, I think that’s going to be, or we already are. But when it maybe becomes just advisory because compliance is all automated, I think we are more valuable than we are today.
And that’s where I a hundred percent agree cause they’ll always be advisory. So should someone buy or sell a stock, whether it be you mentioned Merrill Lynch, the data’s going to come automatically, but if that person’s smart, they’re talking to their accountant and say, “How can I minimize my tax this year? How can I defer it? How can I maximize my wealth? How do I plan for retirement?” That’s why it’s kind of interesting that in high school there really don’t require a finance course for everyone. And that’s where we’re pushing down, make high school students understand the value of a dollar and if they understand finance, they’ll understand the value of an account because this business is being established all the time in this world. And those people need accounts for basically two reasons. Compliance and what do I do? How do I profit in my business?
Right. Keep me out of jail and help me look forward, right?
But the problem is if you teach them all that in high school, then they won’t need accountants anymore. So no no, keep them ignorant. Keep them ignorant at all times. Just teach the ones who might become accountants and then, but no, yeah, Jasen, you’re right. Keep me out of jail and keep me looking forward. That’s what people want and they’ll always need that, right?
So on that, we should probably, for everything we say, assume that even if we say something that sounds like negative about the future of the profession, we all agree with all the people we’ve talked with. It’s an exciting time and there are upsides for everything. And that tax advice is not going to go in. The tax function of accounting isn’t going to go away. It may change, it may go to something more interesting and more exciting and more, as I said, value added. But certainly there’s always going to be demand for accountants.
Alright, we could obviously go on about this for another three to four hours, but I want to now switch to a different question, which is, and this is based obviously all three of you have bring your own levels of expertise beyond just having been podcast. So I shouldn’t say that that’s the only way everything, because you’re both experts, all three of you are experts in a lot of other ways. So this might not be from your podcast, this might be from your own experience. But I want to know what big idea you think accountants should be focusing on? And I’m going to go first because I went last time, but I’m going to go first just to get me out of the way because it ties into a lot of the things we talked about in the first half of the podcast, which was about change.
And so I’m, my big idea that I think accountants should be focused on, and we’ve covered so many different aspects of it that I’m not going to spend too much time on. It, is that accountants need to become better. Everybody does, but accountants are our audience. So that’s who we’re talking to, need to become better at change and change management needs to become a muscle that accounting firms can exercise all the time. And this is another thing I heard on the podcast, someone where I first heard it was on the podcast, someone talk about the need to be able to learn, unlearn and relearn because things are going to change constantly. You need to forget what you learn before, learn the new way of it and be prepared for all the changes to come about. But you need to be prepared to change the structure of your firm, the structure of your offerings, the kinds of offerings you’re offering, all those sorts of things.
The technology you’re using, how you hire people, how you find clients, all these things are going to change and they’re going to change, right? It’s not just enough to make the big digital transformation now and refresh your service lines to accommodate the new stuff that’s going on now. Cannabis, esg, whatever it may be. You have to be prepared to do that on a regular basis. We’ve talked about how quickly change is going to come at firms. That’s not going to stop. It’s only going to increase. And you need to be prepared to be continually changing. And that is a muscle that you can build up. You can’t just say, well make this one big push and then we’ll be done because you’ll never be done. Which sounds a little terrifying except that accountants are really pretty good at change when they allow themselves to be.
You think about it, every year there’s changes to the tax code, huge changes to the tax code every year and not even every year, all the time there are changes to accounting standards, to auditing standards, all these sorts of things. And accountants are experts at digesting those new things, applying them to their clients, mastering those new rules on a regular basis even. And on a, let’s face it, a ridiculously short timeline for most of them. So they’re really good at that when they think about it and when they say this is what we do. And so I just think accountants need to be prepared to take that specific skillset that they have of adapting to those kinds of changes and being ready to apply it to everything else in their firms and practices. And that is a little daunting, but if you can do it, bring that natural skillset to it, I think again, the future’s super bright for firms and accountants that can do that, so. So that’s my big idea that I think accountants should be focus on. Jasen, I want to get yours.
I’m glad you called on me first, Dan, cause I have thoughts brewing about what you said. So I think, yeah, I go back and forth on this internally, and this is based on my 25 years of experience in this profession. We have sort of this joke that we tell and it’s an inside joke of the accounting profession that accountants are slow to change. And I think what you say there, Dan, with embracing that is so important. And I think there’s a degree of truth that maybe there are professions just a touch slower, but I don’t think society as a whole is that much different if you really look at it. And Simon Sinek, who’s this an incredible thought leader, I’m a huge fan of him. I’m sure many of you’ve heard of him. He talks about this thing called the law of diffusion of innovation, and it’s about how you see the adoption of innovation typically in a form of technology.
You can get 10% just pretty much instantly. There’s going to be people that are just like, yeah. And those are the ones we say, wow, they get it, they get it right? And then you’ve got the next 50% and it’s this massive chasm. And that’s the skeptical crowd. That’s the group of people that go, I need to see that this is going to really get the outcome that you’re claiming it does before I’m going to go overhaul thing. And the stuff that we ask accountants to overhaul in their firms are massive things. Madison, how do you go from an hourly billing model in a massive firm where this is the whole structure of the firm all the way to performance management and then shift that into value-based pricing and subscription-based pricing, which flies in the face of the hourly billing rate. And so the embracement embrace of change, the fundamentally mindset attitude is absolutely critical because it’s upon us.
We’ve been putting Keeping Up Bay for a while because it is so huge, but it’s going to have to build the skillsets to do that differently. And I think the skillsets part is probably the hardest for people. There’s a set of skills that we’ve been using in these traditional models for so long, and these are the types of dispositions of people that become CPAs. Typically, I’m speaking in generals, of course, I’m not trying to stereotype. And so how we build those skillsets, I think crows need tax and county pros need to think about build buyer partner. That’s what we always kind of do. We build buyer partner, do I build these skill sets myself? Do I buy talent or something that helps me have those skills or do I partner to get those, to have those skills? And that’s, that’s going to be looking outside of the traditional CPA or EA that we’ve kind of built firms around and really thinking differently about the skillsets that we need in our firms.
Well, and part of it is because the change management skillsets at least, or that part of change used to be, but you had time, you could just gradually adopt it and without even really noticing it, without structurally saying, “Okay, this is a change we are implementing. Here’s the timeline, here’s how we’re going to do it.” You used to have a decade to be able to say, yeah, we’re going to adopt this over a long period of time. Document management systems and accounting always strike me as a good example. Took a long time for those to get implemented. It was kind of painful, it was kind of disruptive, it was kind of annoying, but they just sort of did it over a long, slow period of time because you could. But now the pace of change is such that you can’t just sort of adopt things by osmosis. You really have to, as you say, you have to consciously go out and say, like you said, “build by partner” is a great way to talk about it. But one way or another, you have to go out and get those skills. You can’t just wait till they sort of develop slowly and appear over the course of natural business as it will, because if you wait for that, you’ll be left behind.
And if I could just add one more thing with, I think that was a really cool point too because you talked about the pandemic and the market forces in protecting that. And so what’s interesting, e-file is another one that comes to mind for me as a change that just took us forever. And it was like, but finally got to a point where the Irish forced it. They’re like, no, we’re doing this. You’re getting on board or you’re getting fined. And Matt, then all of a sudden we saw that tidal wave shift and the same thing happened with the pandemic. These forces that were at play were slow play, but now we have this market force that’s just washed over it and we don’t have the luxury of saying, well we’ll deal with that over the next 10 years. Now we have to do it now.
So wait, I wasn’t sure because we were talking so much about change, there’s so many different aspects to change. Was there another big idea you wanted to talk about as well or…?
No, I think that’s right on point. I think the skills part is the big thing for me. And related to that.
There were a lot of new, I was saying you brought up a lot of new elements, so I wasn’t sure if that covered where you wanted to go because again, we could talk about all of these topics we could talk about for days and days and probably will in fact just the next 75 episodes of all of our podcasts will be just uncovering the rest of all the things we’ve talked about today. Randy, you get to go next for your big idea.
Okay. First I’m texting my producer to tell him the next 75 episodes are just going to be this. So making sure he is warned on that.
Alright. We’re good. We’re good. So I mean I just want to keep going based on what you guys said, and I’m going to talk about that a little bit because you kind of mentioned that the whole change management and accountants or CPAs or EA or tax preparers or bookkeepers or whatever you want to call ’em, good at change because there’s always change out there. But the change that we’re good at in my mind is that hey, we have new tax law, we have a new FASB, we have a new gap, we have whatever it is, but sometimes it does. We’re not as fast with the change in our firms themselves. It’s like, okay, we have to worry about all these other changes, but this technology I should be you utilizing.
It’s just, that’s going to take too much time because I’m doing all these other things to help my clients. And that’s our mindset as accountants, we have to help our clients. That’s first. And so I think it’s important for them to start to concentrate—them, us, I’m in that group—concentrate on more of that change for ourselves. And there’s a couple things that one, and I didn’t talk about this before, but there’s a couple things that the pandemic has accelerated from a change standpoint. Just there’s a lot of things that it’s accelerated, but one is just the whole corporate culture I think has become way more important. I think because the pandemic, because we’re working remote, but because also we’re just not finding the people and retaining the people and tracking the people that we have in the past. So this is kind of a twofold answer to a question you didn’t ask but to answer anyways.
Those are often the best. Those are often the best answers.
But we’re having fun. So the one thing I wanted to talk about and I didn’t talk about in our first segment is the fact that John Garrett, having him on my podcast was one of the most eye-opening things that ever happened to me. And we weren’t even talking accounting or tax or practice management other than from a standpoint of corporate culture. And that is so important. And I don’t know if you all know John, he wrote the book your, I probably talk about John more than anything else on my podcast and his message because it’s so important, especially with the pandemic, especially with us all working remote. And we’ve always been a remote firm, so we’ve always kind of known we had to do something different from a culture standpoint. But just allowing people to be themselves and not just be their title, that people aren’t just the auditor, they’re not just the tax advisor, the tax preparer.
And so they’re the pickleball player, they’re the hiker, they’re the mountain biker, they’re the whatever. And I think that that is important, not only it always has been. I think it’s gotten a lot more important with the way we’re more 2D versions of ourselves looking like we are today rather than 3D versions of ourselves. So that’s important. And then if I can do the second part, and that I think is a very important for firms and individuals to know go forward, going forward is you don’t have to know everything. And I think Jasen alluded to this with sell or by outsource or whatever that, what was the three words, bill, buyer, partner, there you go with that is you don’t have to be an expert anything, everything, because you can always build relationships with someone who is, but building your knowledge base in a niche, whatever.
And Dan, you had mentioned this before, but whether that niche is industry specific, whether it’s a service offering, whatever it is, I think that is just so important, especially as there’s more competition as there’s more private equity coming in that allow these bigger firms to have more specialized areas. I think being a niche practitioner is just, that’s what I became 16 years ago. I was a generalist before that. So partly this is just real life experience with me. I am so much more satisfied with my job and what I do and the services that I offer and the satisfaction I get of out of helping clients today as a niche practitioner than anything. And I think that knowledge base will show through if you become an expert in a niche or industry or service offering and people will just gravitate towards you because your passion will show through to what you’re doing. And so to me, if we’re talking about what we need to do, what accountants should be focusing on is, hey, focus on whatever your most passionate about in your business, industry or service and try to build the practice off of that.
This could have fit with the first question, which is, I hear a lot of people talking about the need for nicheing and for finding a specialty, finding a specific area that you’re working on and that’s important. And then the aspect of the passion—I’m glad you brought it up. I didn’t give you a chance to talk about John on the first question, and I’m sorry I didn’t because I’m glad you brought him up.
No, that’s alright!
‘Cause he’s got a fascinating story. Big four, big four accountant becomes standup comic becomes, discovers, discovers, creates this brilliant idea of what you’re in. And that really is an important idea. And I hear people referring to that idea all the time without necessarily knowing that it came from him even or where it’s origin. It’s a great, great idea and definitely one worth birth paying attention to. And you can look him up online, find him out there. He actually used to have a podcast of his own, I dunno if it’s still going on—the Green Apple podcast.
He’s changed the name.
Well, it’s now called What’s Your “And?”
Oh, well that makes perfect sense. But he had his Green Apple podcast was on for a long, long time. I didn’t realize he’d switched the name. So we should probably at the end we’ll have a recommendation for other podcasts other than ours, that once you’ve finished listening to all ours, you should go listen to. But his is always fascinating stuff.
Alright, excellent. I think now wait, Jasen, we’ve gotten your big idea. Randy, we’ve gotten your big idea. And again, I’m sorry—I’m glad you brought up John because he’s great. So I think that brings us to Mr. Bergstein. You get to wrap us up. What’s the big idea you’re paying a, I think accountants should be paying attention to?
It’s all your ideas, since you’re all so original with it. Well, going back to what you started with, Dan, I think I heard somewhere a long time ago at an engaged conference from this gentleman named Barry Lanson who was trying to get CPAs in the fold. He sort of said similar to what you said, and I agree with it, it’s all about change, continuous learning, unchanging and learning new things because this is really a great profession. You talk about nitching after you go by the top 500 firms and holding this up, but this is what I started with. We don’t use this tool anymore. It’s a relic when you get by the top five—
For our audience, it’s a pencil.
When you get by the top 500 firms, it’s 44 to 46,000 CPA firms, less than 20 and probably average of five to 10. And that’s what makes a accounting and accounting today. Today or accounting tomorrow. Such a great feel because you don’t have to be an accountant to go into accountancy. You can be an entrepreneur that sees a niche for a service. What’s the service you’re providing? You’re helping businesses be more liquid solvent, profitable, efficient, helping them determine risk. So you can start as an accounting practice without being an accountant, being an entrepreneur, seeing as an opportunity to make money. And you can hire people. They don’t have to be CPAs, but CPA is really the top of the profession that’s got the most prestige. I bet most people don’t know the difference between the CPA certificate and any other certificate out there. And that’s what makes it kind of difficult.
And that’s why I can fill, I can solve the pipeline problem. When we think about it, the CPA certificate is different than any other certificate because it’s a license. It’s a license by a state board of accountancy. And that’s what makes it a little bit more difficult. But I think the AICPA or whatever other accrediting body should have a CGMA before a CPA that might encourage more people and it might compete with other certificates. Cause that’s a certificate, that’s not a license. When you think about it, I think this profession is ripe for growing to anybody who sees the opportunity. And as all of you said, it’s all about change. But think about it, we’re talking about nicheing changes and coping, but what is it? The service that a CPA sells or an accountant sells? It sells helping the clients and solving problems.
So think about that. How do you help your clients solve problems by understanding what their needs are and understanding what their setup is. And that’s why it’s not just about accounting, it’s about cryptocurrency, cybersecurity efficiency, whether they’re green, whether it’s keeping up with the environment or whatever. This whole ball of wax changes what it’s all about. And smaller CPA firms, smaller accounting firms can change the motorboat quickly. It’s the large firms that have too much going on to be able to change as quickly. So I think that everybody’s right on point with what they’re saying. It’s coping with the fact that we’re in today’s world, everything’s changing as quick as it—we don’t even know.
So David came up with a great idea there and I don’t know if anybody even heard it in there, but he said, “Accounting Today, Accounting Tomorrow.” Dan, I’m going to give you the first shot at this. Do you want to start the new company, Accounting Tomorrow?
We’re going to have “Accounting in Three Weeks.” That’s our—
Okay, I won’t take that. I’m going to give it to you.
I appreciate it. We’ve already, I’m sure, I’m sure our corporate legal affairs department has already trademarked that. We’ll be suing you, Mr. Bergstein for bringing it up.
Well, you already have Accounting Tomorrow!
We did have Accounting Tomorrow, but we couldn’t keep up with tomorrow. Tomorrow came too quickly. So now it’s all just Accounting Today because really Accounting Today was always Accounting Last Week. And then Accounting Tomorrow was pretty much Accounting Today. So now we’ve just, everything’s Accounting Today. And then that’s where we’re at. Dave?
I like Accounting Today much better than I did a couple months ago. Do you know why?
I think I have an idea, but I’ll let you tell us .
Because it’s easier to stack now, the new Accounting Today, cause it’s not in newspaper form, it’s in magazine form.
He keeps—sorry folks. He keeps holding up physical prompts that you can’t see. He was holding up a magazine sized copy of Accounting Today. We switched from tabloid size to magazine size. I feel like I have to footnote you throughout this entire discussion.
He does the same thing on AccounTrends all the time. I’m like, David, I’m feeling, I know you love your props, but we got to tell people what you’re holding up.
To be honest, he’s like the carrot top of accounting podcasts, right? He’s a prop comic. But no, I appreciate that. It does now fit in your mailbox, which we are proud of, and I think a lot of our audience is grateful for, at least I haven’t gotten any angry comments about getting a tabloid size magazine in their mailbox. So yes, I appreciate that. Any other final thoughts before we sign off? Randy first and then Jasen?
Well, and again, this is—anytime I’m with the three of you individually or together, I just learn so much and it was great to be part of this. And you are all looking out for the profession and seeing where the profession needs to go and helping direct or at least educate on topics that are important. So I appreciate being here and again, had a lot of fun today.
Awesome. Thank you, Randy. Jasen, you get the last word.
Well, so this is the last word for the episode or just the last word to this topic?
I think the last word for all of accounting—we’re declaring the whole profession wrapped up and done. But yeah, just certainly for this episode.
Yeah, so I think it was me that you guys were referring to earlier where I just, I learn constantly. I’ve learned more in the last year of doing these podcasts than I have in my entire 25 years in this profession. And it is absolutely eye-opening to see what’s going on out there, to see the passion that I’m feeling from a lot of people I talk to, new to the World Pros is what we call ’em, where they’re just starting their firms. I’m doing a mentoring group right now with a special program for a group of those folks and they are excited. I share with them what’s happening and how we’re thinking about the way that the profession’s going to look going forward. They get really excited and we’ve got to do more of that. We’ve got to showcase the impact that we have on people’s lives because we are a profession that is the best position to help people achieve their dreams and goals. And we’re doing it. There are a lot of firms that are doing it today, learn from those firms, look at what they’re doing and learn from them. And then have the courage to take the leap yourself because it’s possible.
Alright! Listen, I’m glad you brought up. It really is a privilege to be able to interview all the people we interview. It’s great because they bring all these insights. It’s great to have the three of you on to share your insights. And so I’m going to make a gross and blatant plug and say, one thing you should all be doing is listening to our as many podcasts as you can. There are a lot of them that are great. Obviously Jasen and David’s AccounTrends podcast and Randy’s The Unique CPA, but there are lots of others we could mention. Ed Kless has a great podcast and Ed and Ron Baker have a great radio show and there’s the Cloud Accounting Podcast. And Amy Vetter has a podcast and there’s millions of great podcasts out there. There’s a lot of voices out there sharing a lot of great thoughts and great ideas about the profession. And I mean obviously our three podcasts are the best, but really, there’s a lot out there and a lot to learn and we’re lucky to be able to be in the midst of it.
Gentlemen, I want to thank you all for this opportunity and again, we’ll be talking for the next 75 to 80 episodes to unpack the rest of it. But for now, thank you all.
Thank you, Dan.
And thank you all for listening.
About the Guest
Daniel Hood has served as Editor-in-Chief of Accounting Today since 2011. He first joined the publication as Managing Editor in 1997, giving him over 25 years’ experience in covering the profession. He hosts The Accounting Today Podcast, and the March 13, 2023 episode featured Randy Crabtree and a discussion about burnout and mental health in accounting.
Daniel has also served as a business editor for the New York Daily News, and as a production editor for The Wall Street Journal Europe. He is the author of five novels and a guidebook to New York City.
Daniel earned his bachelor’s in History from Georgetown University in 1989.
Meet the Host
Randy Crabtree, CPA
Randy Crabtree, co-founder and partner of Tri-Merit Specialty Tax Professionals, is a widely followed author, lecturer and podcast host for the accounting profession.
Since 2019, he has hosted the bi-weekly “The Unique CPA,” podcast, which ranks among the world’s 5% most popular programs (Source: Listen Score). You can find articles from Randy in Accounting Today’s Voices column, the AICPA Tax Adviser (Tax-saving opportunities for the housing and construction industries) and he is a regular presenter at conferences and virtual training events hosted by CPAmerica, Prime Global, Leading Edge Alliance (LEA), Allinial Global and several state CPA societies. Crabtree also provides continuing professional education to top 100 CPA firms across the country.
Schaumberg, Illinois-based Tri-Merit is a niche professional services firm that specializes in helping CPAs and their clients benefit from R&D tax credits, cost segregation, the energy efficient commercial buildings deduction (179D), the energy efficient home credit (45L) and the employee retention credit (ERC).
Prior to joining Tri-Merit, Crabtree was managing partner of a CPA firm in the greater Chicago area. He has more than 30 years of public accounting and tax consulting experience in a wide variety of industries, and has worked closely with top executives to help them optimize their tax planning strategies.