The American Accounting Association (AAA) hosts the Accounting Programs Leadership Group (APLG) and the Federation of Schools of Accountancy (FSA) joint seminar every year. This seminar is comprised of esteemed stakeholders in the industry, such as recruiting teams from the nation’s largest firms and accounting department leaders from a variety of universities. They gather to stimulate excellence in accounting education, as well as ensure that the next generation of accounting graduates continue to support the profession.

This year the host city was Tampa, Florida, and as expected, we learned an incredible amount from the event and sessions.  We are now excited to share the insights with you! 

Here is what we learned at APLG 2019: 

1. The Only Constant is Change, and the Accounting Profession is No Exception

It’s not a matter of being replaced by technology, but more about facing the exciting frontier that technology is changing the way we do things.  Are we going to sit and watch, or lead the charge? The Accounting Firms are leading the charge, proactively, by changing their internal structures to align with market demands, mining more data and listening to their clients’ needs even further. 

Many speakers during the event pointed to the exciting reality that not too long ago Accounting’s first great disruption was computers. Today’s great accounting disruptions are: 

Artificial Intelligence
Data Analytics
Blockchain Technology

New accounting technologies will always inform how firms conduct business and firms must adapt to meet the needs of the market.

2. The CPA Exam is Continually Improving

The AICPA continually makes improvements to the CPA Exam as they remain focused with the profession’s demands. The CPA Exam Blueprints are a result of this alignment. In January 2019, Blueprint updates included:
Visualizations, data sets.  
A new leasing standard, tax code.  

In the future, the AICPA is meeting with the AICPA Board of Examiners (BOE) to seek approval to kick off the practice analysis process.  The focus of this meeting will be on:

Assessing impact of technology on newly licensed CPA practice. 
The content knowledge and skills on what is most critical for newly licensed CPAs.

3. Data Analytics Remains a Hot Topic in the Accounting Profession

Accounting firms are incorporating Data Analytics, Power BI, and Tableau into their workflows. Analytics is an everyday part of an auditor’s role, but firms are seeking the opportunities to educate all their staff on data analytics. However, they aren’t looking for a new accountant who is a “coder” or “excellent at Tableau.” Rather, they’re looking for them to be a curious and adaptive problem-solvers with a great core understanding of accounting principles and how to leverage these tools.

4. Strong Soft Skills with a Digital Mindset is Important for New Accountants 

Surveys of recent firm employers all state that soft skills are lacking from accounting graduates. So much so that accounting firms are working with their staff to reskill new hires.  There is something to be said about the human advantage over new accounting technology: mostly that people are still needed to empathize, practice judgment, translate, and provide insights. 

According to the Future of Jobs Report 2018, the following chart compares the top 10 skills in demand now versus by 2022. 

Firms also state that they need new accountants to adapt, change, and be agile. With the evolution of the industry comes the need for new accountants to be able to learn, unlearn, and relearn things seamlessly and efficiently.  

5. As Advocates for CPA Exam Success, we share a united message: Start Your CPA Exam Journey, or Have it Completed, Prior to the First Day on the Job

Recruiters and Human Resource professionals alike want their new accountants to have completed some or all of the CPA Exam before going into the firm.  This allows new accountants to take on new skills once they walk into the door, giving them opportunity for quicker upward advancement as well as being a valuable asset to the firm. The longer new accountants delay the CPA Exam, the less advantageous it is for both parties.  

6. An Accounting Degree Coupled with the CPA Credential Remains the Gold Standard for New Accountants

A degree in accounting opens the door for many accounting graduates. That coupled with having a CPA license makes a new accountant invaluable to a firm.  New accountants need to focus on obtaining soft skills, data skills, and critical thinking skills to excel in their careers. Having all of these, both credential and skills, continues to be an expectation on new hires. 

7. Personal Branding is Becoming More Important for New Accountants

Everyone has a personal brand, whether they are trying to market it or not. Personal brands are powerful and refer to the process of establishing public image. Personal branding involves carefully conveying values, beliefs and goals to both friends and colleagues. And, most importantly, personal branding can inform how people react, what type of job opportunities are available, and can affect overall career success.  

8. Accounting Firms are Shifting to Virtual Continuing Education Programs to Encourage Learning and Development 

Firms are altering their continuing education programs to create easier access to learning and development classes for their staff. This includes moving from traditional ways of teaching at a location, to virtual training and engagement. They’re also considering ways in which learning has evolved with today’s student, approaching learning methods and techniques through the lens of the learner. 

9. Firm Recruiting is Changing, but Company Culture Remains a High Priority

Recruiters are adapting to today’s technology, transitioning how they recruit new accountants. While some firms are considering putting less emphasis on resumes, others are looking at virtual recruiting through Skype. Today, recruiters want to assess a candidate by their skills and experiences, not just their GPA.  It’s a positive shift to becoming more skills focused.  

Company culture continues to play a vital role in a new accountant's decision to pursue or accept an offer from a firm. Understandably, a firm's company culture is especially important because it mirrors both the working environment and the personality of a firm. So, while ways of recruiting might be changing, showcasing the company culture throughout the recruiting process remains a high priority to both firms and new hires. 

10. There are Numerous Benefits to Attending Conferences Like APLG​​​​​​​

Attending conferences such as APLG, hosted by your State Society, various professional organizations, or those hosted by your firm or campus are  invaluable for one’s professional growth. They’re key to remaining plugged into the rapid changes in the accounting profession, especially with a great line up of key speakers while also providing unique opportunities to networking with others. We look forward attending next year and as always will bring the most up-to-date information about the accounting profession to our audience with each insightful conference we go to.