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Jon Baron Keynote: What Accounting Firms Need to Know for the 2020s

With massive changes and the continuing evolution of digital enviroments, as well as societal adoption of technologies, accounting firms need to accept and embrace that change, if they hope to be successful in the coming years.

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With massive changes and the continuing evolution of digital enviroments, as well as societal adoption of technologies, accounting firms need to accept and embrace that change, if they hope to be successful in the coming years. Even more so, firms will likely face irrelevancy if they don’t adapt not only new technologies, but new service offerings.

That’s according to thought leader Jon Baron, who gave the opening keynote address at the 2016 Thomson Reuters SYNERGY Users’ Conference. Baron is the managing director of the Professional segment of Thomson Reuters Tax & Accounting business.

This year’s conference, the 36th annual event, had a record 1,488 registered tax and accounting professionals in attendance as Baron laid out the case that far from being afraid of the changes looming across the profession, practitioners should boldly embrace the new opportunities created by cloud-based and mobile technology, data analytics, and greater social connectivity. This was the first Thomson Reuters conference for nearly half of this year’s conference attendees.

Baron cited “Internet of Things” statistics that show, among other things, that by 2020 the world will be a place where there are roughly 50 billion connected devices; individuals will own on average at least six connected devices per person; and the world will produce 44 zettabytes of data. A zettabyte is 1,000 exabytes. One exabyte = 1,000 petabytes. One petabyte = 1,000 terabytes. One terabyte is 1,000 gigabytes. Another way to envision it, is that a zettabyte is roughly equal to all of the data on about 250 billion DVDs.

“Our biggest challenge may be change management and simply keeping up as we embrace a totally digital world,” said Baron. “We should be thinking about the profession through the implications of the second machine age: massive amounts of data; artificial intelligence and cognitive computing; and technology convergence. We’re entering the era of the ‘Smart Internet.’ Very soon, Machine Learning will impact the accounting profession as we move in a direction where traditional accounting firm services become more automated and commoditized. With the new ‘digital consumerism,’ your clients have changed, as has their service expectations and view of the value an accounting firm delivers. Are you evolving and staying ahead of this transformation?”

Accompanying the theme of digital disruption, Baron also weighed in on the workforce disruption occurring in the tax and accounting profession. Firm leaders are aging and succession planning is a growing concern, fueling significant merger and acquisition consolidation. In addition, fewer accounting students are sitting for the CPA exam which has intensified a talent war that is real, and further underscores how critical it is for firms to leverage technology to be ultra-efficient.

“In a world of continuous connectivity and innovation, clients demand an unmatched customer experience and levels of service beyond human capacity,” said Baron. “Accurate, reliable service is no longer enough. They want unfettered access, smart experiences and timely insights. Firms can’t operate in yesterday’s world.”

Baron reinforced the commitment of the business in three areas – security advancements and taking measures to protect firms and their client data; further on-going development and investment of current generation offerings; and continued advancement and expansion of the innovative Onvio cloud-based suite of solutions. These efforts support progress toward using Big Data for benchmarking and advisory services, marketing and lead generation, and engagement pricing and quoting, among many other innovative new areas.

In the course of the wide-ranging keynote, Baron also demonstrated several new products and capabilities, including the Thomson Reuters Authenticator, a multi-factor authentication app designed to assist firms in their security efforts in the complex, constantly connected digital world of today. Baron emphasized that firms need to be diligent in protecting their systems and data, and that Thomson Reuters will continue to work shoulder-to-shoulder with them and others in that effort.

“Thomson Reuters is actively working on ways to incorporate the latest technology like voice recognition and data analytic tools to further drive the profession forward,” said Baron. “Our approach is simple: keep our current product family updated and relevant, and develop the next generation of workflow tools to support an entirely data-driven profession.”

For 36 years Thomson Reuters SYNERGY Users’ Conference has been a profession staple, providing an environment where the latest technological advancements, business insights and thought leadership abound, along with ample opportunities for peer-to-peer collaborative learning.