Navigating Technological Changes in Your Accounting Firm

Gusto Editors

Do you want to know how to create a change management process to update the tech at your firm? 

Gusto is here to help you thrive now and in the future. That’s why we partnered once again with CPA Academy for pointers on how to adopt new technology. The webinar “How to Minimize Tech Stack Disruptions to Your Clients and Your Firm” featured CPA veteran Martin Kamenski, who discussed accounting firm technology, team training, how to update legacy systems, and more.

Martin Kamenski is an expert CPA specializing in the creative and entertainment niches. The associates in his accounting practice, Revel CPA, have a down-to-earth, empathetic, friendly approach to client relationships. He loves helping writers, fashion designers, musicians, creative agencies, restaurateurs, and more with their accounting needs. 

Why you need to overcome your own resistance to change

One thing you probably have in common with your clients is that you most likely don’t want to learn a new system, let alone become the expert in it,  and then convince your clients that they need it too. If you’re already grappling with the automation revolution and the shift toward advisory, having to migrate your own firm onto a new platform is probably the last thing you want.

“Change is hard. Who wants to do it? Are you kidding me? You’re probably sitting there thinking, ‘All right, not only do we have to learn a new tool, but we actually have to become experts in it. We’re the accountants. We’re the CPAs. We can’t just bring on a new system and use it in our company. We have to become experts in it because our clients are the ones who are going to turn around and ask us when things are going wrong.’”

– Martin Kamenski
Mature businessman using a digital tablet in an office.

Unfortunately, it’s going to be hard to be confident in your advisory services if you don’t have experience in what you’re advising on. Furthermore, it doesn’t look great to clients if you’re trying to convince them of the value of something that you haven’t demonstrated your value. Martin had personal experience with this.

“How do you think it comes across when you are advising clients on change management and you don’t have or use a change management process yourself? … I will admit to being in this situation, not exactly with change management, but in another context, advising my client on something that I hadn’t fully implemented for my own firm. Oh, I never wanted to do that again. … It felt absolutely horrible, because how do you stand there in any kind of credibility, trying to tell a client that you know how to advise them when you haven’t gone through the same process yourself?”

– Martin Kamenski

As advisors, your greatest role is to become the go-to resource for your clients when they’re struggling with the solution you’ve helped them implement. Your clients want a human to connect to—which supports the notion that automation isn’t going to be replacing CPA advisors anytime soon—to help them through change. They don’t want to call a customer service line, no matter how robust that service line is. But that means you have a lot of work to do, and that can be daunting. 

“Yes, these tools have their own support, but we all know who the first person they’re going to ask when something’s going on with their system. They’re going to send you the email [saying], ‘What’s going on? This is broken. … Can you fix this?’ And so you’re [probably] thinking, ‘All right, we’re going to have to learn this new tool internally, and then … we have to retrain our staff and update our processes, and that’s all admin, un-billable time.’ … That’s a huge investment.”

– Martin Kamenski

It’s true that investing in AI tech can be risky, so it’s important to identify and address those risks.

Navigating the risks of tech changes

Chances are you’re familiar with all of the reasons an accounting firm might resist upgrading to AI tech platforms. Not only is it a huge hassle, but it’s also a shift toward offloading much of the work that brings in money. 

“If we automate away some of this busywork that we have been doing by migrating to a newer, upgraded system, what are we going to charge our contracts for? How are [we] going to make any money going forward?”

– Martin Kamenski

The shift toward using machines for much of the math isn’t going anywhere. They outperform people in so many ways and can cover staggering amounts of data with speed and accuracy. While most accounting niches aren’t likely to disappear, some could. That’s why the shift toward advisory should be welcomed. Machines can’t compete with people when it comes to complex problem solving and leadership. If CPAs can leverage automation by working with their chosen platforms, they can make this shift work for them. By offloading the busy work, they’re free to help clients in more complex, thoughtful, and holistic ways.

At the same time, that shift is still very much in the process. When that outcome hasn’t happened yet, the process of navigating technological changes seems overwhelming, maybe even pointless. To combat this, use the same three-step process Martin used for helping clients navigate changes for your own firm. 

“There’s a lot of concern on the part of firm owners yourselves, but the answer is very simple. You’re going to start with the same blueprint, the same steps. You’re going to assess your own organization, you’re going to prepare, and you’re going to execute.”

– Martin Kamenski
Business team meeting working and brainstorming new business project.

Just like you’d do for any client, you need to assess your organization for all of the details and considerations that will be affected by new technology. You’ll involve the entire organization, being sure to over-communicate and spell out everything that’s going on to everyone. You’ll execute by leveraging your leadership abilities, giving compelling reasons for why you need to make the shift, and how it’s in everyone’s best interest to do so. Additionally, Martin pointed out other specific considerations for CPA firms making the transition. Examine the following questions.

What processes will be affected?

First of all, what parts of your workflow, systems, and processes will this technology touch? How will they be affected? Can they be updated? Will they need to be revamped? How does it impact input, output, reporting, and integration? How will this impact the overall workflow?

How will it impact your team?

Consider the impact that new tech will have throughout your organization. What team members are impacted? Look at everyone at every level, and don’t forget about outside vendors and contractors. How can you involve them in this process?

How will you pay for it?

What does your financial flow or model look like? Will you bill the client directly for it? Will you absorb the cost but raise your prices? How will you communicate these costs to clients? How will you present it to them as something worthwhile? And importantly, how will you show them that you understand it’s tough to pay more and find ways to keep them around?

How will you train your team?

As you formalize your change management process, you’ll need to have concrete processes in place. A big part of these processes should be training. You can standardize this and keep it in place for any new tech that you integrate in the future. Now’s your chance to build it out, so put thought and time into it. 

“Do you actually go back and look at your change management process and see if it’s still effective? You’ve got to revisit processes like this at least once a year. Don’t do them all at the same time. … Take your processes and sprinkle them throughout the year, [review] them, and potentially update [them].”

– Martin Kamenski

You’ll also want to develop some evergreen training tools. Keep those in an easily accessible Google Doc along with any updates and changes. 

Training your team will be well worth the investment of time and energy. To keep things interesting and your team engaged, make sure you train them in a variety of ways. You can train them through live training, videos (try Loom or Vimeo), walk-throughs, booklets, or Google Docs. 

Learn more about how to navigate technological changes in your accounting firm

Navigating tech changes as an accounting firm is similar to supporting your clients in the same process. You’ll want to do a thorough and detailed assessment of your firm. Plan by communicating with and involving everyone in your organization and execute by leveraging your leadership skills. While navigating this change can be daunting, remember the bigger picture—you’re setting your firm up for success in the future. 

Gusto’s mission is to create a world that empowers a better life. We’re thrilled to help you succeed as a conscious advisor in the new age of accounting. Don’t forget to check out our other two articles based on the same webinar: “How to Embrace Technological Changes in the Accounting Profession” and “How to Advise Your Clients During Technological Changes.”

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