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AICPA Engage is massive – covering 3 floors of the Aria in downtown Las Vegas. This hotel seems to be the #1 venue for conferences, in the #1 conference town in the USA. They put on a really good show. As we were exhibiting, we didn’t get to attend as many sessions as we’d have liked to, but on the flip side we got to hang out with more of the (mostly) IT focused vendors. Here are some learnings we can share with you:
- Conference exhibiting is outrageously expensive, but it’s hard to be taken seriously unless you are prepared to invest. So, if you’re committed - just breathe deeply. We’re not complaining.
- The talent pipeline in the USA is the worst of anywhere we’ve seen. Students don’t take accounting in college because starting salaries are so low (the son of our exhibitor neighbour just started from college as a data scientist on US$300,000 whereas Big 4 starting salary is about $68,000…) and the work environment is so horrible, especially in the larger firms. Hence the pipeline is shrinking.
- AI is coming, it’s real, and it’s going to help a lot. The message to firms was “the tech vendors will bring the solutions to you – you won’t have to wait long”. But be aware of the need to validate everything and stay vigilant for privacy and data security
- The Big 4 and Second Tier mostly shun this conference, which is probably a good thing. But the spread of Top 200 firms represented was impressive. The range of willingness to accept new ideas and innovate was much wider at both ends than I’ve seen before. The best and the worse of tech adoption. Desktop software and checks – what is wrong with that…
- The structure of the American accounting profession, perhaps akin to its constitutional structure, means nothing happens fast. There is a desperate and mostly well understood need to revamp the educational pathway with less emphasis on structured learning (currently 5 years of college) and more emphasis on hands on training and being mentored. But 50 State CPA Societies need to agree. Without agreement the ability of CPAs to work across state lines will be compromised. The whole value of the CPA brand, including even it’s monopoly on audit provision, is at risk. Any detractors of CAANZ, CPA Australia or ICAEW look no further than the USA!
- There were almost as many outsource providers exhibiting as there were IT providers! This reflects the dire state of the pipeline, but this increases the risk of causing more crises down the line when managers and partners in CPA firms can’t be replaced.
- 5 days in Vegas is enough.
In conclusion, AICPA Engage proved to be an insightful and valuable event. Despite the high costs associated with exhibiting, participation in the event allowed for meaningful connections with IT-focused vendors and exposure to a diverse range of top accounting firms. The presence of numerous outsource providers and the varying levels of tech adoption among attendees showcased the current state of the profession and the urgency for change. While the complex structure of the American accounting profession may hinder rapid progress, the insights gained from AICPA Engage underscore the importance of embracing innovation, addressing talent shortages, and fostering collaboration across the industry to ensure its future success and sustainability.
About the Authors
Giles Pearson FCA was a PwC Partner for 18 years before jointly setting up Accountests.
Steve Evans has a whole career dedicated to enabling employers to attract, recruit, develop and retain talented individuals and teams, with particular expertise in candidate testing and assessment before setting up Accountests.
Accountests deliver the world’s only online suite of annually updated and country-specific technical knowledge tests designed by accountants for accountants and bookkeepers.