In October 2018, Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (CPA Canada) held a National Conference to discuss the coming changes to the world of finance and the challenges these changes could present for some practicing accountants. The adoption of blockchain technologies, artificial intelligence, and even the new gig economy all came into play – as did the millennial workforce.
What is Blockchain Technology?
It seems like yesterday that blockchain technology was nothing more than a new method of making payments. Today, blockchain is poised to upend some of the world’s largest financial institutions. Upend, but not destroy. It’s all a matter of perspective, keeping pace with the challenges, and rolling with the punches – punches you can see coming if you know where to look.
Is blockchain a threat to the world of finance? Maybe. To the world of an accountant? No – that is, not if you’re prepared. And here’s why:
- The change is not rapid because in order to implement blockchain, you have to overhaul your company’s entire network – including those of your partners, suppliers, and clients. This isn’t impossible, it just requires thoughtful planning. Currently, blockchain is most appealing to banking and lending institutions who have entire teams dedicated to the reconciliation of accounts. The greatest issue posed by the adoption of blockchain is simple: most entrepreneurs, accountants, and other business people still don’t understand how blockchain can add value to their current setup. Those who have already implemented blockchain technology tout its level of traceability, improved management of natural resources, and even more secure travel between borders, as some of its most exciting opportunities.
- People don’t really trust machines. Because blockchain is a mystery to many, it’s hard to implement something in your firm that you’re not altogether sure of. In fact, many people think that blockchain and Bitcoin are the same thing. To better understand what blockchain is, think of it as a general ledger. Only blockchain’s entries occur as they happen, and these entries are publicly accessible. This confusion is a good thing, according to Eric Nguyen of Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton, as it can push both blockchain and its cryptocurrencies toward more transparency and stricter compliance rules. This is the most crucial aspect of adopting this technology – as an accountant, your oath to maintain ethical standards in your work means that, once you have a firm understanding blockchain technology, you can poise yourself as an industry leader.
- Accountants are adaptable by nature. In fact, there’s going to come a day when your firm trains its staff on blockchain technology as naturally as you do for online accounting software today.
Even if your firm isn’t a large-scale operation, the best way to position yourself is by knowing the questions you need to ask to become a rockstar blockchain authority, such as:
- Do others in your organization even know about blockchain?
- Should you develop a strategy for blockchain?
- What consortiums are available at which you could gain a better understanding of this technology? And if they offer membership, should you consider it?
- Are there currently any case studies on blockchain implementation?
- If you decide to adapt, what blockchain technology applications should you implement?
Getting Up to Speed on Evolving Trends
Because you’re a finance professional, it’s important to understand some of the industry’s current buzz words. Understanding digital currencies, artificial intelligence (AI), and overall professional evolution positions you as a trusted adviser and a true innovator in your field. Sometimes, one of the hardest decisions to make is between keeping with what you know and being efficient, or stepping out on a limb and innovating. Some firms simply don’t have the manpower to make this decision, so they remain doing what they always have in an effort to maintain efficiency.
Digital Currencies – Valuation and Regulation
Despite the skepticism you’ve probably heard around the water cooler, digital currencies are a global future. Governments around the world and many financial institutions are already on board, which is good news. But it’s the valuation side of cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, that makes it a little harder to swallow. As of August 2018, there were more than 1,600 different coin offerings, and Bitcoin tops the list as of December 2018.
One of the greatest challenges for digital currencies includes its valuation. Because of this, regulation and auditing concerns also exist. Once a semblance of clarity is established, cryptocurrencies could explode.
What is AI software and why you should be interested in it? AI software allows for the analysis of entire sets of data within minutes. This is incredible news for you, as it allows you to harness cryptocurrency technology, providing your clients with more efficient services. In fact, the only thing holding back most CPAs from jumping on the cryptocurrency bandwagon is not entirely understanding the technology. Because the AI software analyzes the data for you, hundreds of man-hours are eliminated. If you’re able to analyze the data, you can figure out how to utilize it.
Millennials have a communication-centric relationship – both with those they look to for leadership and the staff they personally oversee. This specific subset of employees today are all about engagement. But, how do you illustrate your commitment to your employees? How do you engage their ideas? Showing that you place a value on how they see the current playing field gives these employees a better overall outlook on their position – both in your firm and in the world as a whole – which amounts to greater overall employee morale. Put simply, you’ll have a happier office. While it can be challenging to find what engages each subset you employ, the payoff is a more involved staff that’s better connected to the overall goals you have for your firm.
How Does the New Gig Economy Come Into Play?
Some of today’s terms related to the new gig economy would have seemed foreign just a few years ago. When you think of it like that, you realize how much certain aspects of your firm have changed, and continue to change when you implement new ideas and technologies.
But how does this relate to you and your firm? Well, did you know that:
- A lot of today’s firms outsource some of their work during tax season?
- Over 218 million Canadians performed some type of temp or freelance work in 2018?
- Over 43% of the Canadian workforce could be gig economy workers by 2020?
It’s not a matter of whether or not freelance work is going to impact your firm – it’s already happening. It’s important to develop and implement strategies for bringing this type of talent on board. Address these five areas to ensure your foray into hiring freelance workers goes off without a hitch.
- Develop a solid staffing model
- Determine how to adjust your current processes
- Address ongoing changes in the world of technology
- Decide how to train your freelance staff
- Determine how to update your employment contracts
A solid staffing model takes into account the fact that the days where new hires had years to develop and hone their accounting craft are gone. Today’s technology dictates a rapidly advancing workforce that must be able to keep up with the changes. Make sure your new hires display strong analytical skills and think strategically.
Also, account for how your firm’s processes look against current technology. In other words, the changes you make to your current staffing model must have the ability to optimize your use of new technologies, as well as take into account the effect on freelance staffers.
Technology is ever-evolving, so maintaining links to training methods to stay ahead of the curve is necessary. Implementing AI software and overall automating a lot of your processes keeps you proactive. As time goes on, the gap between top firms and average firms continues to widen, but by keeping abreast of changes in the industry, you can ensure your firm remains at the top of its game.
It’s important for all incoming staff to understand blockchain, how to use it, and why cryptocurrency caught on so immensely. It’s also essential for employees to maintain a working knowledge of compliance, but with a focus on the skills and tools necessary to take on more advisory roles.
Consider creating updated employment contracts with specific information regarding on-demand or freelance workers. For instance:
- Are they expected to work during specific hours?
- Do you want a non-compete clause in the contract?
Usually, freelancers are just that: free to work when, where, and for whomever they like. Your firm probably keeps normal business hours, so do you want your freelance employees to work during those hours also? Do you need to stipulate that they must be available via phone or email during those hours? And what about allowing your freelance workers to work for several different firms while they work for you?
Given the nature of freelance work and your specific firm, you may or may not need to outsource to freelance workers. But having access to a talented pool of freelancers not only can make your job easier, especially during tax season, but it also allows this growing workforce a flexibility in employment options.
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