Okay, okay… so you just graduated with your master’s, you probably shouldn’t start worrying just yet. Go out and party a little bit first. Accountant party, of course, nothing too wild—get crazy and forget all about saving your receipt from the bar tab. Woohoo! You animal!
But accountants are worriers by nature. You’re methodical and systematic about it. You look at the numbers, you evaluate the scenarios, you think about all the things that don’t quite add up. And you keep digging until you find out why. There’s a reason CPAs have a reputation for being a little too serious, and it’s a reputation you wear with pride.
So after the party, you’re going to wake up and take a good hard look at your new profession and think about how current trends and issues are going to effect the course of your career… Then you’re probably going to go back and dig that receipt out of the trash.
Here’s a look at those very trends and issues you’re likely to be faced with on a near daily basis in the coming years…
5. Globalization and IFRS
The International Financial Reporting System was started in London in 2001 by the International Accounting Standards Board and adopted in 2002 by the European Union as a mechanism for harmonizing the increasingly integrated financial reporting systems in the common market. Today, around 120 countries rely on IFRS to determine standards of accountancy… but as you know from your recent classes, the United States is not one of them.
Here, the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), an evolving set of standards that have been relied upon since the late 1930s, hold sway. This has set up a confrontation of sorts, one that the Securities and Exchange Commission was expected to resolve when it began to work with the IASB on merging the two standards in the early 2000s. But in 2012, the effort was abandoned, and the issue now hangs over accountants in the United States: will IFRS become adopted, or will GAAP continue to rule?
4. The Machines are Gunning for Your Job
Since the advent of the killer app that was the original spreadsheet, IT and accounting have been inextricably linked, and new advances in technology have only made life easier for CPAs.
But the same acceleration in technology that is putting assembly line workers out on the street is coming to the field of number-crunching too. AI and machine learning are already being brought to bear on traditional accounting tasks like fraud detection and asset estimating.
And blockchain and cryptocurrencies are going to throw more wrenches into the accounting process as they become more popular… exacerbating some of the globalization issues noted above.
3. Commodification of Accounting
Related in some ways to technology advances, the commodification of accounting services is having, and will continue to have, a major impact on future accounting careers. Quickbooks had a big impact on bookkeepers and it changed how many CPAs interacted with their small business clients. But the relationship was still between the CPA and the business.
But online services are starting to turn those accounting services into commodities. Virtual accounting jobs started off as a great way for accountants to work from home or start a freelancing career. But it didn’t take overseas firms long to realize that on the internet, it didn’t matter much to clients if their accountant was across the state or halfway around the world. The same pressures that have come to bear on American manufacturing are coming to service industries and accounting is not exempt.
2. Regulatory Whiplash
This isn’t necessarily a new concern for accountants but its been one that has been thrown into stark relief lately by the polarization in American politics. While CPAs typically thrive on changes in the tax code, it’s not healthy for either accountants or their clients to be facing uncertainty when it comes time for issuing or receiving advice on long-term planning.
When the Trump Administration began attempting to dismantle the various tax obligations created by the recently adopted Obamacare laws, it began to destabilize the healthcare market and made it difficult for businesses to budget for upcoming healthcare benefits costs.
Even as that drama played out, Congress passed the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which had its own sweeping changes for the tax code. While the immediate implications are clear enough, CPAs now find themselves having to read political tea leaves to determine long-term tax implications. Will a Democratic Congress undo the legislation in two years? Will a Democratic president radically overhaul enforcement, as the current administration has done? It’s getting harder and harder to offer sage advice in an uncertain political environment.
1. Work/Life (Im)balance
Another mixed bag for new accounting graduates is the fact that there aren’t enough of them… according to the 2017 AICPA (American Institute of Certified Public Accountants) Economic Outlook Survey, the availability of skilled personnel in accounting was named as the top challenge facing American companies.
This means you’re not going to have any trouble finding work in the industry and will probably be getting paid top dollar along the way. But it also means, particularly combined with the above challenges, that you’re not going to be enjoying a traditional 9-to-5 role with three weeks of annual vacation.
Instead, you’ll find yourself with your nose to the grindstone as you take on the work of two or three people. Modern technology means that going home at night or to Italy on vacation won’t provide much respite, either. Your phone can ring anywhere and the internet will turn any vacation hotspot into a remote office.
It’s enough to worry about that you might already be thinking about crumpling up and pitching another bar tab receipt.