Picture an accounting firm from the 1950s. You would expect boxes and boxes of paper files, typewriters, and ashtrays on desks.
It goes without saying that times have changed. The professional world is constantly faced with changes to technology, processes, standards, norms, and business models. And these changes occur at a lightning pace.
Experts have proclaimed that the future of finance and accounting is digital. And it is no surprise that we are seeing this as a trend, since almost every other aspect of our lives—from how we shop to how we watch movies and do our banking—has moved online.
And, for some, the future is here now. There are, in fact, virtual-only accounting firms that exist in Alberta—an idea which likely would have been unfathomable in the early days of accounting.
Obed Maurice CPA, CA is Partner with Avail CPA. The virtual accounting firm he founded, Maxim Management, recently merged with Avail CPA. Obed now runs the firm’s virtual niche, known as Avail Maxim.
“It’s like a normal accounting firm, but a billion times cooler,” says Obed when asked to describe a virtual accounting firm. Despite his lighthearted tone, he’s serious about the benefits of the customer- centric business model that his firm provides.
It uses cloud-based accounting tools and its staff work remotely without a physical office. Working virtually has several benefits. Real-time access to data allows Obed and his team to work rapidly with their clients to make business decisions.
“At the end of the day, I think it brings us a lot closer to our clients. From my mobile phone I can tell you the profit or loss to date for a client. I’m not wondering or waiting for them to stop by with a shoebox of records a month from now. We need that information now so we can make proactive decisions,” says Obed.
This isn’t to say that virtual doesn’t have its challenges. Obed mentions that security is always a risk with cloud-based technology. To mitigate these risks, proper technological safeguards and a very deep education on security for his staff are required.
“What I’m doing isn’t perfect for everyone. There are people who prefer different ways of doing business, and I appreciate that. Some people really aren’t ready to adopt new technologies, haven’t had the chance to educate themselves, or don’t have access to the resources to minimize risks.”
In addition to moving away from physical bricks-and-mortar offices, how employees are choosing to work and the positions they are taking are also changing. The term gig economy has become popularized and refers to a labour market with a prevalence of short-term contracts and freelance work.
As reported in an October 2017 Globe and Mail article, staffing company Randstad Canada states that if you add up all the contingent workers, freelancers, independent contractors, and consultants, 20% to 30% of the Canadian workforce falls into “non-traditional workers”.
A 2012 Harvard Business Review article also described a new type of professional: “Supertemps”—individuals who have been trained at top schools and companies but choose to pursue project-based careers independent of any major firm.
Nimal Rodrigo CPA, CA is the Regional Director of Central and Northern Alberta for the CFO Centre. The CFO Centre is an organization that specializes in providing veteran CFO talent for small- to medium-sized businesses.
Nimal himself works as a contract CFO and he speaks about some of the reasons why employees are choosing the gig economy career path.
“Certainly in my case, and for a lot of my team, changing from a focused lifestyle where you’re part of one management team to a portfolio-based lifestyle allows you more flexibility and freedom. You choose your assignments, how much you work, and how much you don’t work,” says Nimal.
Contract CFOs who work with the CFO Centre have a variety of options around their assignments. One such option is long-term part-time CFO assignments; for example, Nimal acts as the on-going CFO, working one day a week for a client. There are also clients who require a CFO on an interim basis; that is, to fill in for an absence or leave. Lastly, there are project-based assignments, where a business may require the expertise of someone with a very specialized skill set for a short-term initiative.
“What we offer is very beneficial for small- to medium-sized businesses who cannot afford a full-time CFO or don’t have enough work to justify the investment required to have one, but need the skills of a person who has senior financial leadership experience. This type of leader can accelerate the company’s growth path and help them avoid mistakes that an inexperienced organization might make,” says Nimal.
For those looking to break into the role of a ‘Supertemp,’ Nimal advises that they should start by taking some time to really think about what they value and what is important for them going forward, from both a work and leisure perspective.
“What is it that you feel most comfortable in? What environment do you excel in? Do you like being part of a team? Is that important to you? As part of the gig economy, there may not be as consistent of a flow of income as you’re used to. So, gain as much experience as you can in as many areas as you can. Broaden your business networks so that it is easier for you to find clients,” he says.
What else will the future hold, aside from virtual firms and the gig economy?
Obed Maurice expects that the same trends and technologies we’ve seen a rise in other aspects of our life, such as the social tools of Facebook and the conveniences of Amazon, will start seeping into the accounting profession.
“I always take a customer-centric viewpoint. I look to other industries and what the client experience is in other industries. I think we can expect the most valuable of those trends to manifest or start to unfold in our own industry. ”
Change can be terrifying for some, but for these two CPAs who are doing things a little differently, the future of the accounting profession is bright and full of potential.
“I’m really excited about the future—we’re starting to demonstrate the value that an experienced finance leader can have on small- and medium-sized businesses. From a CFO Centre perspective, it’s never been more easy and affordable for these companies to grow and succeed,” says Nimal.
Obed, who will be a featured speaker at CPA Alberta’s Elevate Your Mind conference on May 14 in Edmonton, echoes these positive thoughts, saying, “It’s a bit of a golden era for accountants. We provide value beyond just the traditional number crunching—we can become advisors in areas that I don’t think were available to us twenty-some years ago.”
This article appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of Dividends Magazine and was written by Elyse Nabata.