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First Annual Conference from Rightworks a Success

More than 240 accounting professionals, vendors, and speakers gathered earlier this month in the warm sunshine of Austin, TX to share experiences and learn from a host of experts at the inaugural Rightworks RightNOW conference.

More than 240 accounting professionals, vendors, and speakers gathered earlier this month in the warm sunshine of Austin, TX to share experiences and learn from a host of experts at the inaugural Rightworks RightNOW conference, billed as a conference that “unites accounting professionals to drive awareness around cutting-edge solutions, innovative strategies, and best practices that foster modern and profitable firms.”

The event included two days of educational sessions with topics such as how to be truly connected to your clients, evaluating trending technologies, optimizing your firm’s tech stack, creating an IRS WISP plan, mastering accounting firm security, best practices for working with the IRS, and much more. Keynote speakers included Kevin O’Leary from television’s “Shark Tank,” and AI expert Dr. Radhika Dirks.

Some of the highlights from the two-day event:

In a panel discussion called, “Rise of the Connected,” attendees learned that clients are expecting a different type of service post-COVID-19. Michael Horowitz of BDO Alliance explained, “COVID changed the way we do business, and it has elevated our client expectations. Clients expect us to make their experience seamless and integrated – they see it in other parts of their lives today so why not get it from their accounting firm?” Shane Westra of Canopy added, “People expect instant gratification, instant responses, knowing where things are.”

Recommendations included adding more interactivity to your company website so that clients can easily upload and download documents through portal software, make payments, and more. While it was suggested that some clients still balk at having to use automated services, Adrian Johnson of SafeSend explained that many other types of businesses in today’s world operate well in an online environment, and it’s okay to expect accounting clients to do the same and not feel we need to get their permission to change the way our website works. “JP Morgan Chase is not asking my preference.”

There seemed to be a lot of agreement surrounding major pain points for accounting firms which included:

  • Talent: acquiring and retaining
  • Training (both technical and sales): Andrew Berg of Berg Advisors, a 100% virtual accounting advisory firm, discussed the difficulty of training staff to have advisory conversations with clients.
  • Maintaining office culture when a large percent of the staff is working remotely. Jeff Milligan of Monticello, IN-based Baker Milligan said that members of his firm benefit by joining each other on an annual company trip and spouses are included. But he added that sometimes the number of remote workers can impact clients negatively – many of his firm’s clients prefer face-to-face meetings in the office to virtual calls.
  • Negative impact of the 150-hour rule for accounting students who are required to take a fifth year of schooling without a requirement to focus on anything relating to accounting.

When it comes to making changes in an accounting firm, whether it’s new technology, new methods, new team responsibilities, or something else, Rightworks’ Chief Strategist Darren Root and workforce and company culture advisor John Mitchell emphasized the importance of not just giving directives but actually being part of the team during any transition. “The most important thing is to be there with the team every step of the way,” said Root. “They want to know you’re hearing them, you’re intentional, and you’re being supportive.

A lively discussion around artificial intelligence and security focused on keeping data safe. Everyone agreed that, above all, personally identifiable information (PII) must be 100% secure. As accountants, we collect so much PII from our clients. If there is a breach, we are liable. There should be a PII plan within every accounting firm, and of course the IRS is now requiring all tax preparers to have a Written Information Security Plan (WISP) in place.

“RightNOW brought together some of the brightest minds in the accounting profession. From firm leaders and their staff to renowned industry thought leaders and technology innovators, we collectively explored ways to advance the profession and modernize the ways we do business,” said Joel Hughes, CEO for Rightworks. “The event surpassed our expectations, and the feedback has been very positive. We are looking forward to hosting everyone again next spring at RightNOW 2025.”