December 12, 2019

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Accountants worry about (the same) stuff

recent survey found that accountants’ three biggest concerns going into 2020 are as follows:

  1. Recruiting/retaining good employees
  2. Acquiring and retaining new clients
  3. Keeping up with new technology

These are all classic worries for accountants, and they tend to feed off each other. If a firm lacks good people who can serve clients and learn about new tech, its services will become less valuable, and it will be harder to attract new clients.

Likewise, if a firm continues to use antiquated technology, it will be harder to recruit and retain good people and clients will be less happy with the services. Or, if a firm doesn’t effectively acquire and retain clients, it won’t be able to hire new people who can improve technology or serve clients better. This cycle can go on until someone decides they don’t want it to go on anymore.

If a firm decides, say, that it doesn’t need more clients and will focus only on serving its existing ones, they could charge those clients more. The clients will benefit because they would get more attention and value from their firm. If those clients are happy with the arrangement, and the firm becomes increasingly profitable, it can invest in more employees and technology to the extent it needs to.

Similarly, if a firm decides that it doesn’t need more clients, maybe it doesn’t need more employees, either. The current team can then focus on the clients that remain, providing more value to them. Maybe that means the firm can pay these existing employees more, and perhaps that helps retain them more effectively, and can still invest a bit in its technology. Or, assuming the firm’s employees are happy with their pay because they’re focusing on fewer clients, a firm could pile all that savings into tech, allowing its people to know those tools better and passing that knowledge along through its services.

So in summary, I’m suggesting that all the firms concerned about recruiting, acquiring, and keeping up with tech should stop concerning themselves about those things. Instead, they can worry about improving the people, clients, and tech that they currently have. Exchanging one set of worries for new ones doesn’t eliminate the worrying, but it seems like a place to start.


For the last several years, accounting tech conferences have gotten noticeably glitzy. I saw Jennifer Lopez being driven in a golf cart a couple years ago at one of these conferences. Indoors! They had to clear the whole hallway just so the cart could pass. So, that was something.

Anyway, celebrities of all stripes have made keynote appearances where they talk about how they never gave up, never let down, never ran around and deserted their goals.

Ranica Arrowsmith writes about this trend at Accounting Today, and how nobody really gets anything out of it. That seems fairly obvious. Facts you learn from Snapple are more enlightening than a keynote from Kelso. And yet, “The audience cheers the loudest, and post the most on social media,” for the celebrities because who doesn’t love Kelso?

If you took a random sample of accountants who attended an Ashton Kutcher keynote, I bet that none of them would say that the star of Dude, Where’s My Car? inspired them to transition from compliance to advisory services or to abandon their timesheets for value-based pricing. In fact, some accountants may have left the talk early because the guy from My Boss’s Daughter wasn’t saying anything relevant to what they do. But it just so happens that after they left the auditorium, they struck up a conversation with someone who did have some interesting and useful insights into their firm, and it made the whole dog-and-pony show worth it.

Which is to say, people shouldn’t go to conferences expecting to have their minds blown by celebrity keynotes. Conferences, to the degree that they are useful, have a serendipitous quality that make them fun, interesting, and potentially life- or career-changing. The encounters that inspire those moments come from regular people. Regular accountants. They rarely come from having a picture taken with Oprah.

International news

Meanwhile, in Sri Lanka:

The former accountant of a private company in Colombo has been sentenced to 367 years rigorous imprisonment by the Colombo High Court, after he was found guilty of defrauding over Rs 2 million from the company by presenting forged documents.

I’ll save you the trouble: Two million Sri Lankan rupees is about $11,000 USD. The obvious next question is: Why 367 years of imprisonment? Is that supposed to cover his next five reincarnations? In my next life, I think I’ll go on a global crusade to enact reasonable sentencing laws for white collar crimes.

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Caleb Newquist Caleb is Editor-at-Large at Gusto. In 2009, he became the founding editor of Going Concern, the one-of-a-kind voice on the accounting profession, serving in the role for 9 years. Prior to Going Concern, Caleb worked as a CPA for nearly 6 years in New York and Denver. He lives in Denver with his wife, two daughters, and two cats.
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