As we gear up for the MACPA’s annual Innovation Summit on June 16, we thought this would be a perfect time to have a conversation about the future with some of the Summit’s most forward-thinking sponsorship partners.

We asked each of them to give us their thoughts on the trends that are impacting the profession, the changing role of CPAs, and how their relationships with CPAs might be changing as a result. We’ll be featuring their answers here over the next few days.

Joining the conversation today is Shari Dodgen, Wolters Kluwer, CCH’s director of strategic relationships for CCH Tax and Accounting North America.

1. We all know the trends that are impacting the profession today – social, mobile, the cloud. What are the next big trends that CPAs need to pay attention to?
Shari Dodgen: I think this is the year that tax and accounting firms start to truly embrace innovation in a big way. The reality is that the business environment that emerged from the last decade’s economic stagnation is unfamiliar and requires fresh ways of thinking and doing business. Instead of going back to how things were before the economic crisis, successful firms will embrace new technologies, new processes and completely new approaches to client service. Our Wolters Kluwer, CCH Leaders Now & Next survey shows that pioneer firms consistently see their revenues, profits, and value increase while also outperforming firms that fall into the other categories. These pioneer firms embrace and institutionalize technology; they are not just bleeding-edge adopters. All sizes of firms can be a pioneer, regardless of whether they have one employee or 10,000. It is their approach to technology and its integration / institutionalization in their workflow that makes them succeed and win in this new business environment.

Of course, “innovation” is a meta-trend that includes social, mobile, cloud, etc., but those are just the tools that firms will use to achieve the end result. I think you’ll see firms design programs to identify and reward their innovators, implement processes that allow for some degree of experimentation with new ideas, and develop methods to systematically analyze and evaluate these ideas.

It’s a little lofty, but so much more relevant than a simple gadget or a single technology. 

2. How will the role that CPAs play change as time moves forward?
SD: It’s not a surprise to anyone in the profession that the role of the CPA is evolving. Doing simple tax work was probably never a sustainable business model for a CPA firm, but unfortunately the regulatory environment has put tax compliance front and center for many clients. CPAs, of course, need to optimize their tax practices to minimize the amount of time they’re spending filling out tax forms for clients. But more importantly, they need to educate their clients about the value a CPA offers.

In order to function in the trusted advisor role that provides the real value to their clients, CPAs must also become brand evangelists and rainmakers for their firms. This is a role that many CPAs don’t find comfortable, but the ones that really embrace and invest in firm branding will find it that much easier to serve their clients effectively. The value a CPA provides is not always as evident to clients as we’d hope, so CPAs need to become adept at marketing themselves. Social media is one tool that those progressive pioneer firms leverage to market themselves and retain existing clients. They also use it to develop key relationships with the next generation of future decision makers on their clients’ teams.

3. Is your relationship to the profession changing as a result?
SD: We are always looking for ways to move beyond the vendor / customer relationship. In the past, where we may have seen our role as primarily to help professionals work more efficiently, we’ve really expanded our line of sight to encompass the professionals’ ability to serve their clients better. The truth is that it’s not all about efficiency – it’s the CPA / client relationship that is what truly matters to the profession.  

Clients depend on their CPAs to be right. With one misstep, that trust can be broken beyond repair. So efficiency is, of course, a requirement, but even more than that, we have a responsibility to the profession to provide the essential information and tools professionals need to serve their clients with confidence.

With that focus in mind, we recently announced the newest content innovation from Wolters Kluwer, CCH — Quick Answers, which features more than 2,000 answers to questions most often researched in IntelliConnect and can be accessed from a single, centralized location from a user’s desktop, laptop, mobile device or tablet. Quick Answers provides immediate and succinct information on rules, rates, and definitions as well as links to key charts and calculators before users review any documents, providing them clarity and saving time. With this new enhancement, both IntelliConnect and CCH IntelliConnect Direct users will spend less time looking for answers and more time helping their clients. Quick Answers is a direct response to customer feedback around getting to the answer faster and transitioning our solution from information to insight.

4. What’s the most important thing Innovation Summit attendees need to know about your business?
SD: Our business has been around for so long and is so entrenched in the profession; probably every attendee is familiar with us as the publisher of the U.S. Master Tax Guide® every year. But what would probably be surprising to many attendees is the ongoing spirit of innovation that exists in a company that is 100 years old. As a company, Wolters Kluwer, CCH doesn’t just talk the talk about innovation. We are consistently delivering products and services that are breaking new ground in the profession. From true cloud-based software with CCH Axcess® (not just desktop software virtualized over the Internet) to our award-winning e-signatures solution, CCH eSign®, we are changing the status quo every single day.

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