AICPA Chair Advises Accounting Students to ‘Ride the Wave of Change’

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Even as technology makes accounting more efficient, CPAs will have to work much harder in the future, according to William (Bill) Reeb, chair of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

A lot of people in the accounting profession have gotten complacent, Reeb said, “but the world is changing, technology is changing, and you now have to compete at a higher level.” He spoke at the Naveen Jindal School of Management during the “Fall Featured Speaker” event the Accounting programs held Nov. 11 in a packed Davidson Auditorium.

William (Bill) Reeb

“You need to ride the wave of change or else get pounded by it,” he said.

Reeb knows a thing or two about staying flexible. Before becoming a CPA, he earned degrees in marketing and computer science, started a software company and owned two women’s apparel stores.

“I know far more about women’s clothing than any man should ever know,” he said with a laugh.

He also became a martial arts instructor, a job that taught him key lessons that also apply to the CPA profession.

“The mantra we teach our students in martial arts is ‘learning, trying, failing.’ Because if you make mistakes, you get better, faster and stronger. You keep evolving.”

In the coming years, CPAs will need to adapt to a world in which technology takes over a lot of the human tasks now involved in financial record-keeping, according to Reeb.

“The low-end work will go away. We’ll have to move up the value chain into high-end complexity work, like giving advice — even when you’re coming right out of school,” he said.

“That’s not a bad thing. It’s a great thing, because it means more opportunities to deliver new services and connect with clients in new ways.”

Some old-school CPAs might “feel angst and pain when they hear how much they’ve got to change,” Reeb told students, “but you guys embrace technology at a level that my generation doesn’t. You know how fast things are changing.”

His message struck a chord with the standing-room-only audience.

“He did a good job of inspiring us and really pushing the importance of technology, the idea that as technology gets better, our standards will rise,” said accounting junior Tamara Fry.

Reeb “is one of the most important voices in the profession today,” said John Gamino, director of the Jindal School’s undergraduate accounting program.

“He gave a dynamic and yet conversational presentation with an engagement level that was very high, start to finish,” Gamino said. “Technology and globalization are changing our environment, but Reeb explained how to turn these changes into opportunities. He reminded us there is no other profession as resilient and diverse as the CPA profession.”

T.D. Christensen

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