I had the privilege of listening to Bill Reeb at a recent presentation to the AICPA Controllers Conference in Las Vegas. He pointed out that there are several forces converging on CPAs as they advance to higher level jobs which will make us increasingly uncomfortable in the coming years.

  1. Technology is increasingly taking on the role of recording data and turning that data into information – or at least making it much easier to send that work to the lowest bidder, wherever that bidder might be located in the world.
  2. The lower you are on the information value chain;
    the less you will get paid.
  3. The higher you are on the information value chain the less certain you are of the answers.

CPAs tend to pride themselves on certainty. We know the rules, be they accounting or tax, and run the numbers until we get to the right answer. This is what worked to make us successful early in our careers and we are reluctant to let go of the methods that brought us that success. The problem is while getting the right answer works on the low end of the information value chain, which is not what CPAs are asked to do as they advance in their career. Instead we are asked on take on the much more difficult role of producing knowledge and making decisions at the high end of the information value chain where certainty is a rarity.

In fact, at the high end of the information value chain you tend to run into a lot of people making stuff up and getting very well paid to do it. So the irony is the low paying job of coming up with definitive answers and information is going away or paying even less, while the high paying job of making stuff up is in increasing demand.

As CPAs we are going to have to learn to deal with the uncomfortable fact that our employers are not looking to us for the right answer, but instead are looking to us for insights and decisions on much less than perfect data. The sooner we become comfortable with this new paradigm, the more successful we will be in our career.