Ep 2 – Michelle Sopp, Jennifer Oleksa, Chris Fleck, and Bret Johnson | The Future of Professional Learning & Development

Today I sit down with four incredible guests – Michelle Sopp, Jennifer Oleksa, Chris Fleck, and Bret Johnson – to discuss our major takeaways from the 2018 National CPE Educators conference held earlier this year.

If you are in the learning and development business, in any industry, pay close attention because all industries and professions need to adapt and change in response to new technologies and changing behavior.

The conference objectives were:

  • Creating a fun and dynamic learning environment
  • Trying to avoid fluff
  • Offering strategic sessions that spur creativity
  • Creating sessions that challenge attendees to think differently
  • Creating multiple learning opportunities that foster collaboration, not only with other educators but also with our vendors

More about our guests:

  • Michelle Sopp is the Vice President of Learning for the Oklahoma Society of CPAs and the chair for the 2018 National CPE Educators Conference. One of her biggest takeaways from the conference is that today’s learners just learn differently, so the learning experience needs to be more engaging and broken up into smaller increments.


  • Jennifer Oleska is the Director of Education and Training for the Georgia Society of CPAs. One of her biggest takeaways is that associations need to create a better content ramp for bringing in new members, so that we can create a valuable and even beautiful friendship between the members and the organization. “Give them what they need and then they want to be invested and involved with us in the future because they know we’re invested and involved in them as well.”


  • Chris Fleck is Senior Manager of State Society Learning at the AICPA. Chris and Bret were both part of the “FOOD Group” pre-conference meeting, which means “For Our Own Development.” His biggest takeaway is that we’re currently in the process of re-skilling the profession, with associations like the AICPA on the forefront in figuring out what skills professionals need going forward.


  • Bret Johnson is Director of Channel Management and Development for the AICPA. One of his biggest takeaways is that the AICPA and state associations need to embrace more collaboration so that we can stop re-doing work that other organizations have already done. In this way, we can innovate more effectively, together.


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Peter: [00:00:00] Welcome to episode two and my guests today are Michelle Sopp from the Oklahoma society of CPAs. Jennifer Oleksa from the Georgia Society of CPAs, and Chris Fleck and Bret Johnson from the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. Our discussion centers around the major takeaways from the 2018 national CPE Educators conference that was held earlier this year. Please share this episode with people that you know who are learning and development business because it contains a lot of information that applies across industries and professions. So there’s a lot to get to, so let’s get to the interview. I’m so excited today to be joined with Michelle Sopp and Jennifer Oleksa, and Michelle is the vice president of learning for the Oklahoma Society of CPAs. And Jennifer is a director of education and training for the Georgia society of CPAs. And Michelle was the chair for the 2018 National CPE Educators Conference, which was held in New Orleans on February 28 through March 2nd. And I wanted to get them on the podcast to kind of get an idea, one, from Michelle to find out– She’s the chair — of her thoughts and stuff on putting this together. What they wanted to accomplish. Did they meet their goals. And from Jennifer, who’s been in the profession for about ten years and been to a number of these conferences, get her take on what she heard ,and what her big takeaways from this conference were. So we’ll start with Michelle. Congratulations, in my mind, on the successful conference. It seemed like it went over very well.

Michelle: [00:01:41] Thanks Peter I appreciate that. Yes. We heard some great feedback and, from everything we’ve heard, people really enjoyed the conference. I’m also kind of glad it’s over.

Peter: [00:01:52] So what was– as you were planning this conference, what was your main theme that you were trying to do? What were you trying to hone in on?

Michelle: [00:02:01] The history of this conference is a conglomeration of the regional CPE meetings that were held each year. And we wanted a way to get everyone together, not just within the region, so we can learn from each other and expand our network. So four years ago I believe is when the first CPE Educator Conference was created. We put together a list of the objectives and I was not part of that. But I have been on the committee for three years so I’ve been on it for most of the years that’s been in existence. And those objectives included creating a fun and dynamic learning environment, trying to avoid fluff, offering strategic sessions that spur creativity, create sessions that challenge attendees to think differently, and then create multiple learning opportunities that foster collaboration, not only with other CPA educators but also with our vendors. So we wanted– that’s kind of what we wanted to get out of this conference, and we’ve kept those objectives pretty much intact from the very first year. We’ve made very minimal tweaks because I think all of these are still very important in today’s learning environment.

Peter: [00:03:05] Great. I didn’t realize that that these are in place since the inception of the national conference, and I’ve attended three out of the four. So with this, I heard collaboration a lot. Was part of that around collaboration– What to those who you brought in to present at the conference, and also creating those opportunities for vendors, speakers, learning professionals, to have a conversation.

Michelle: [00:03:34] Right. That’s correct. It’s really important to give the attendees time to speak amongst themselves, to be to speak honestly and openly. Some of our best ideas are stolen ideas, to be honest. I mean we always talk about not wanting to reinvent the wheel, and it’s true! Because you may hear another state society say I tried that. It didn’t work, but I did this instead. And either you can take that exactly how it is and possibly drop it into your state and have it work. You might have to tweak it, especially if you’re a big state and they are smaller, and you’re dealing from a different size state and therefore a different budgets. But it’s something that’s really important to be able to talk openly and honestly. So we had a session in the very beginning that was state society staff only, and it was time for them to get that information out there. What have you tried? What have you not tried? And just have honest conversation with no real direction. We had some ideas for talking point, but no true direction of where that had to go. And then the flip side that is being able to work with our vendors. The rest of the conference vendors were allowed to attend all the sessions. Most of them were actually taught by some of our vendors and it was a good time for us to get to know them better and understand their reasoning behind working with us, behind our reason working with them, and having good open conversations with them as well.

Peter: [00:04:56] Yeah that’s always important, especially for these guys, because you know as as this landscape has changed in the CPE world with learning, and there’s so many different ways of offering… are they willing, or I’m assuming they’re going down that path that they need to make some modifications in their delivery in order to fit it into your model.

Michelle: [00:05:18] I see a lot of conversation. I don’t think anyone’s come up with the golden egg of the vision of how it needs to go yet, but the learner today learns differently than they did 10, 20 years ago. And part of that is the vendor has, right now, a very structured format of how they offer content to it. But our learners are wanting a different structure. So we’re in the middle, trying to work with a vendor that has a set way that they’re used to doing business. And we’re also trying to sell to our learners and get them to stay, have relevancy with our organization, wanting to stay as a member or an attendee. So how do we find that balance to where all parties win? And so no one’s really figured it out yet, like I said, but we’re working toward that. And I think that’s the important part.

Peter: [00:06:05] It’s also that classroom experience of engaging that audience versus lecturing to them. They don’t want to be lectured to. They want to be engaged, they want to be entertained per se. I think it was Kristen Rampe, and that’s in her breakout session when they’re talking about what do we need from the presenters. And someone made the comment about well… a lot of it is accounting, and that stuff is dry. I’ve taught it and it is dry. It’s drier than a dry martini. But there are ways of engaging and making it somewhat entertaining in order to have that participant retain that information.

Michelle: [00:06:48] Yes, and I think that you’re one of the instructors that makes sure that you always think about it on the forefront when you’re presenting. I’ve sat in on one of your classes before here in Oklahoma and I was very entertained. So I think that’s important for our instructors to realize. It’s important for us to communicate our vendors to communicate. I think that one of the aspects of that. The other part of that is learning in smaller increments, and getting people to sit down and do not only nano learning, but even just one hour blocks, two hour blocks. The brain isn’t– there’s been so many studies that the brain learns better in smaller increments. People absorb information better. So we’re trying to bring that to our learners. So getting instructors that are willing to maybe add in breaks, add in things like case studies or group discussion. Anything that can break up an eight hour day. If we still have to fill an eight hour day, Break it up to where at least their brain doesn’t get overwhelmed.

Peter: [00:07:42] Right. I think, one, you said give them more breaks. I think you’ve got a challenge there with the strict rules of NASBA and having to adhere to– There are some states that I go to and I go Do I have any leeway? And they they go No. You’ve got to maintain this– it is a little bit difficult with that, but I agree the brain can only absorb– my teaching philosophy is, at some point, especially during a full day, the mind can only absorb as much as the butt can endure.

Michelle: [00:08:11] Hahaha. So true!

Peter: [00:08:11] And when I when I see that look in their face, that oh my god I need a break, I’ll say okay, stand up, take a break now because– and I’ll say that line. It always gets a nice laugh. So being not involved in the planning of it but being an attendee, what were some of the big takeaways that you saw or you felt?

Jennifer: [00:08:29] Yeah. Well thank you guys for having me on. I just feel so honored to be invited, First of all, and to be invited to present with Michelle, who is one of the smartest women in the business. I’m just so thankful.

Peter: [00:08:43] I second that.

Jennifer: [00:08:45] So I want to echo what Michelle is saying. Just getting together and learning from each other is a fantastic opportunity, and we have to do that regularly – or else we kind of lose our edge. So we study from each other what the best practices are – who are the seats that we want to benchmark. We become cheerleaders for each other. You know when a state does try to branch out and try something new. We want to learn from that person, but also cheer them on to try more experiments, if you will. You know Georgia is a large state. We have a lot of programs going on. We have been successful in those programs. But I’m Always impressed with even some of the smaller states who don’t have the manpower to implement everything that we do. But man they are smart and they’re implementing new processes and they’re learning new technologies, in order to make their state very successful in their market. And I’m always impressed with that. You know I always say that two heads are better than one. In this case, for this conference, one hundred heads are better than my head, and I always learn something when I walk away from that. We had a fantastic speaker in the very beginning, she opened the conference, her name was Amy Vetter. She works for a company called Zero and she is a technology innovations task force leader. She’s very technology driven, and Amy was the perfect presenter to open this conference. You know she reminded us of the technology in that generation changes that are coming. But there was this urgency in her tone that you know we need to wake up as professionals. So at first, her presentation definitely could have been viewed as what she would present at firms. So she talks about the changing technology, creating niche practices, a rapidly changing workforce, rapid changes with the way the audits are going to be done in the future. And at first glance, that seems very important to firms but not so much to state societies or, for this conference, education departments for state societies. But I really wanted to challenge us as a group to view that differently. We have to also approach that internally. We also have rapidly changing technology that four generations in the workplace have to adapt to right now. You know we’ve got Generation Z, Generation Y, Generation X, and the baby boomers, and we’re all trying to learn and adapt our practices to this new technology. So we have to be multi talented in the way that we’re approaching new needs that our customers have that they did not have before. Also, she mentioned creating niche practices. So maybe in a state society we don’t have niche practices to address, but we do have customizable offerings that we can offer to our members. You know we have different groups of people. You’ve got auditors and you’ve got tax folks and you’ve got industry members. And how can we customize our offerings to them, whether that be membership driven or education driven offerings? How can we make every member feel like they are our one and only special member? And that’s what it’s going to take I think to to keep them as a loyal customer of ours in the future. And then we have this rapidly changing workforce. You know 35 percent of firms will change ownership in the next two to five years. That’s the stat that Amy gave us. That is terrifying I think for a lot of people, and we were talking earlier that you know that warning has been coming – that baby boomers are going to be retiring – and now that it’s here, it’s almost like we didn’t listen. And now that time has come. And so our firms are looking to find successors. Is technology going to take a stand in that succession planning more than it ever has before? But also how does that translate over to our state societies? Our employees are moving on at a faster rate than ever before and people have said you know once you come to the nonprofit association side of things you’re not going to leave ever, and that’s not the case that we’re seeing. It is a fantastic profession to be in, but we also have to be prepared for our workforce to turn over faster than ever. And so how does technology play into that part as well? And how can we build a collaborative culture in our practice, in our business? And so she gives some examples of that being mentor mentorship and a collaborative culture, room to learn and growth opportunities. And anyone who knows me knows I’m a very collaborative leader, and so I do not have all the answers and I’m not the smartest person in the room. But, by gosh, I’m resourceful.

Peter: [00:13:41] One of my favorite sayings, as we talk about collaboration, we talk about best practices. I’ve always said that the collective knowledge outside of the office far exceeds the collective knowledge inside of your office.

Jennifer: [00:13:52] Correct.

Peter: [00:13:53] And I don’t know if Amy said this or not, I heard it somewhere, that if you haven’t adapted to your technology within your organization, whether you’re a business administrator or you’re a firm, and if you’re trying to recruit those who are coming out of college and you don’t have the screens, per se, or don’t have the technology – they’re not going to come to you. It’s not built for them and they’re the mass workforce coming in. If we keep it the way we did in the 70s and 80s, you’re not going to have a succession plan. The succession plan, and we’re seeing a lot of this right now, is firms are just being bought up. There’s nobody that they’ve nurtured in order to grow that that firm. Michelle, so Amy, who I’ve already interviewed and she’ll be I believe the one before this episode is aired. I mean she’s a rock star and accounting community. One of the top 100 accountants according to accountants today, one of the top 100 women in accounting. Just rock star status. How did you land her?

Michelle: [00:15:01] You know what. I don’t know if It’s going to air before or after us. But Josh Goldman From Ohio knew her and called her up. So kudos to josh.

Peter: [00:15:11] Kudos to Josh and hopefully I’m able to get them on on the podcast to talk about that. But the I’ve been I’ve been following Amy’s career for a number of years and just love what she’s doing and what she’s talking about, with that aspect of technology. The one session that I attended, just because I really want to hear what you guys had to say about the discussion leaders that you bring and some of the challenges that you had was done by Kristen Rampe. I I thought, one, I thought she did a brilliant job because there was very little use of PowerPoint. It was all that group discussion and stuff, so I think that really came across in looking at everybody who who was attending that. And it was standing room only but there were some excellent feedback that you guys were able to gather from that session. And I don’t know if you remember any of that or have seen that feedback.

Michelle: [00:16:02] Mike, one of my co-workers did attend. And she had pages worth of notes pulled out from the two sessions, she went to both of Kristen’s session, and got tons of great information. She talked a lot about what Amy talked about and then just went further into it. So they talked about you know needing to engage. How do you engage? Different tips and tricks you can use to get people out from behind a lectern, or use a regular height table instead of a podium table. I mean little tips like that to really make it tangible for some of the staff that attended the conference, because that was also one of our things we always talked each year in planning this. Yes, we want to be applicable to the director and the V.P.. But a lot of people who attend are the staff, they are the seminar coordinators, they’re the managers for conferences, they’re everything. We need to run a whole gamut of content that could fit anyone’s work style and work day. And Kristen really got I think to that about the presenters and the logistics of something.

Peter: [00:17:05] Yeah I talked to her after that, and I interviewed her for a podcast that is going to be airing before this one, and we were talking about the session. She ended it and she ended it– we were talking about you know you need to know your audience and I asked what do you think that means? And she went down the path of well you need to know the demographics of that audience, you need to know you know generational stuff, and I went right because it’s really all about the audience correct? She goes Yeah. I said my take on understanding the audience is we have sat– being a CPA, I have sat in their seat. I know how painful it can be to listen to a tax, audit, ethics, any type from a lecture perspective. So when you’ve got a discussion leader who’s coming in, and they might be new, well they’re coming and going well this is the way that I’ve always done it. They’re not thinking about the audience, they are thinking about themselves. Or any time they go I don’t have time to do that. No no no. You need to make the time because your audience needs it. And I think that’s where the big challenges that the vendor community, who provide this type of of of knowledge, is the ability to train and to enhance when we’re putting a program together. When I think about my program, think about who I’m delivering this program to and try to gather what their needs are, and supply of that tool.

Michelle: [00:18:35] One of the things that she talked about in her second session was the differentiation between loyal clients and satisfied clients. I think a lot of vendors now they think we have satisfied clients, Great. The problem is you want loyal clients. They’re the ones that are going to have a positive experience and have an emotional tie to that experience. That is what keeps them loyal. That is what makes them coming back. You can be logistically satisfied. You can think okay everything was fine. Nothing wrong with that. But is it great? Is there something that sticks out in your mind that is unique that sets it apart and makes you want to come back? And that’s the difference, and that’s how we’re going to stay relevant going forward, from a learning environment, I think. It’s keeping people loyal, not just satisfied.

Peter: [00:19:17] John Medina who wrote the book Brain Rules. He’s a neurologist who wrote this book and even I could understand it so he really kind of put it in a context I think everybody could understand. You know basically data is boring. Data doesn’t drive decision making. It’s tapping into somebody’s emotion and having them– that’s what creates that that loyal customer, that one– And I think Amy used the term cherished advisor, not trusted adviser, and kind of had that same same aspect to it. Would you agree Jennifer?

Jennifer: [00:19:52] I definitely agree with that. We talked about some secrets to win learner loyalty in another session that we had, by Tracy King. Tracy works with our Inspire ED. And I think for us to really think about who our target audience is in more than just a five minute exercise, but to really understand what their needs are currently and what their needs are going to be in the future, to know that we’re invested in the future of their companies is what’s going to help build that loyalty as well.

Peter: [00:20:23] And knowing everything that we can know about the company. When I talk to CPAs about whether they’re internal, whether in a firm or business and industry. I go do you know who your big clients are? Even if it’s internally, your biggest customers? Yeah. Do you know their birth date? They say why would I want to know somebody’s birthday? I say doesn’t that make you feel good when somebody says thank you or happy birthday on your birthday? And they went Oh yeah I guess so. I said better yet, do you know their spouse’s birthday? And this inquisitive look comes over the faces. Don’t you think that if you sent an email two days before your biggest client’s spouse’s birthday just to remind them that their birthdays coming up, don’t you think that’s going to make a big impression? That you took the time out to do that? That creates an emotional grab.

Jennifer: [00:21:16] I think you’ve just named their second side business. What do you guys think? We’ll start that side businesses.

Peter: [00:21:23] So that will be our side hustle. Is that what the kids are calling it these days?

Jennifer: [00:21:29] We will be part of the gig economy, Peter.

Peter: [00:21:34] I think we need to flesh this out, maybe after this call we’ll see if we can put a business plan together. Oh boy I’m sorry. Put a business plan together. As we wrap up, what is kind of like the one thing you want to leave the audience with in thinking about for this next year, as it relates to continuing professional education in the accounting community?

Michelle: [00:21:56] I think that one of the larger things that we need to start thinking of is the member experience, what we just talked about: relevancy. How are we relevant to their day to day lives? Are we relevant to their day to day life? Because I think right now we aren’t, for a lot of our members. How do we create that tie to us where they don’t just want to be involved, they need to be involved? What are we unique at providing to our either members or attendees so that they will come to us and no one else? I know relevancy is something that a lot of these studies have always talked about, and it’s hard because each person has a different pain point. But if you can find out generally what the pain points are and try to address as many as possible, that’s how you’re going to keep your membership. Because Jennifer said something earlier about how the next generation is coming up and the baby boomers are retiring and everything. Well guess what? Those baby boomers were your checkbook members. Generation X Y and Z are not checkbook members. They want to know what they’re getting out of the organization to be part of the organization. So we have to really think about our strategy and our business model very differently going forward.

Peter: [00:23:07] You’re right. And as you were talking, a thought came into my head. I think I think to maintain that loyalty within within our members – the ability to put cheeks in the seat and not have to cancel a course goes a long way. And I know that’s a pain point for members when we have to cancel a course. So as I’m sitting here, as one who provides this type of product to the state societies, how can we help you put cheeks in the seat? How can we help you in that marketing of these programs? I know I’ve tried video in the past and a few other things, but there’s got to be a way that we can help you to grow that audience for for these sessions.

Jennifer: [00:23:55] There’s this concept in marketing – it’s the push pull theory. Do we push marketing content out to our members or do we pull them into our business, with addressing a need that they have? And so I think that marketing, and choosing different tools and techniques to market to members is great. You know I think Facebook has allowed anyone to become a marketer of any kind of business. And so the market’s a little saturated out there, in my opinion. So the best way to really for us to build loyal customers together, from vendors and educators standpoint, is really to give them the content that they don’t even know that they need yet. So right now, on the horizon, certifications are really big with millennials and their early generation Xers. And so how how can we help our members and customers obtain certifications or additional knowledge that is going to get them one more rung up the ladder I think is what we need to look at, versus you know this class that addresses this one topic on leadership. OK so how do they turn around and use that to become a better leader every day? So there’s a lot of classes out there that are very theory driven and do not present in such a way that members and customers can walk away and implement those practices into their everyday business, and that even goes not only for management type courses but also for tax and arcing and accounting courses.

Peter: [00:25:38] When you said this, and this is my biggest angst. Somebody asked me what keeps me up at night is – I don’t want to come in and be an event. I never want to be a one trick pony because you said leadership. You don’t become a leader just because you attend a course. You become a leader by practicing it every single day. And I have to give that quote to Simon Sinek, who I heard from, that leadership is something we need to practice every day and I think this goes to the content that we need to be providing that audience continual content after the fact, in order to keep it in front of them. If not, they’re not going to create that habit.

Jennifer: [00:26:19] That’s right. And that’s a challenge for us who are educators. That you know how do we follow up after that sale of course happens and that event happens? What’s next? And I don’t think we do as great of a job as we can to continue that learning experience. And so that is a challenge for us to figure out how to keep that going.

Peter: [00:26:43] And that’s one of the reasons why I started the podcast and the newsletter and stuff like that – to keep that constant reminder out there, or for those who have attended or signed up for the newsletter, to keep it in front of them, and just trying to find new ways of keeping that content out there. Your thoughts Michelle?

Michelle: [00:27:01] Yeah I agree. I know some states have tried doing learning tracks, essentially where they’re accepting a new member through a series of courses. Maybe you invite them to come Network for Free event first. Then you invite them to a lunch and learn, maybe only twenty five dollar fee, something nominal. Then you invite them to them to a seminar or conference. So you try to steer someone into not only to the membership, but also into the learning process. And start them with something that’s an overview or update and kind of walk them through. And I think some places have success with that. We have not tried that here in Oklahoma yet. It’s more work to put that together and figure out OK you’re a year 1-3 auditor. What classes do you really need to be successful? Pr if you’re the CFO, What do you need to be successful? And those are drastically different.

Peter: [00:27:51] Right.

Michelle: [00:27:51] So having them come up with, really, a variety of customized tracks takes some time and effort. But I think that’s what– we’re all looking for the easy thing now. You know people want things fast, people want things easy. They don’t want to have to work hard for it and they want to learn the same way. So they are looking to us like OK what classes should I be taking? If you can provide that to them on a silver platter, that’s a great relevancy and loyalty item right there. I just think it’s trying to figure how we do it best before we send it out to everyone.

Jennifer: [00:28:21] I agree. You know we we can customize everything. For example, for my brother this year, he asked for some customized Nike’s. You can pick the color of the lace all the way down to the color of the rivets on the– where the laces go into. You know we customize everything from tennis shoes to you know our McDonald’s hamburger or whatever. And so I think that it’s an expectation in the market right now for us to be more thoughtful in how we make offerings to them. And so what you just said Michelle segues exactly into what Peter asked – Our biggest takeaway from this conference – and so that segues right into my thought, which is you know how do we better learn to introduce ourselves to our members and our customers? And what you’re saying essentially is your content ramp. How do you get people invested, in a small investment way, into your organization, and how can you offer them better and better experiences and content along the way? So that that way, along this journey, we’re cultivating a valuable and even beautiful friendship between the two, you know our members and our organization, and give them what they need and then they want to be invested and involved with us in the future because they know we’re invested and involved in them as well.

Peter: [00:29:44] That’s an excellent point. And I have to say that I I love this conversation. Actually I could probably do this for two hours. But we do have to keep short, so I will I will stop it now. I know you guys are busy. Thank you so very much for taking time to share your thoughts on this topic, which is a very important topic with the accounting profession. And Michelle, congratulations on a successful chairmanship of the conference. And I know you’re looking forward to next year, when you don’t have to do anything but just show up.

Michelle: [00:30:22] Hahaha. That is true. Thank you so much for having us today. It’s been really great chatting with you guys. And yes, next year I anticipate the new committee or new committee chair, whoever that is because we don’t have it quite yet, will do a fabulous job of continuing these objectives. And it’ll be nice actually attend a full conference. That’s the hardest part being the chair – you don’t actually get to sit through all of the sessions. I feel like I didn’t learn quite as much as I normally do as a normal attendee. But it is still a great experience and a wonderful conference, and I’m glad to everyone that came.

Peter: [00:30:51] And I look forward to seeing you guys next year at the conference, and I enjoy you guys company so much. I greatly appreciate taking time. And thank you both so very much.

Jennifer: [00:31:03] Thank you.

Michelle: [00:31:04] Thank you.

Peter: [00:31:06] Wow. I’m joined right now with two esteemed gentlemen from the AICPA: Chris Fleck and Bret Johnson. And I say that since in a funny way because there’s a great story behind it. If you ever see Bret or run into him, have them tell you the story about his name. But beside that, first and foremost guys like you taken time out of your hectic schedule to kind of debrief from the 2018 National CPE Educators Conference that happened in New Orleans. And these guys were part of a pre conference, pre meeting before the conference kicked off, and they called it the FOOD group meeting, where a lot of state society folks got together and collaborated with the AICPA, and I’ll let them explain it to you. But welcome guys I appreciate you take your time. Looking forward to this conversation.

Bret: [00:32:01] Thanks Pete. Great to be here. Great to talk to you again. And I will share that story about my name and why that’s why that’s an interesting story, if anybody who’s willing to buy me a pint at some point in the future. But the one thing I want to say kind of at the outset is you know that the name of the meeting was FOOD group kind of by default because it was a lot of the people who come from that FOOD group group of professionals originally, and Chris can tell you what FOOD stands for. But you know when we when we first started– kind of you know the whole idea was about how do we innovate? How do we skate to where the puck is going to be? To use an overused phrase from Wayne Gretzky. But we had started having some conversations with a few states. We originally called it The Escape Room committee because of a idea that Rebecca Campbell had about having some CPAs learn in a escape broom type environment. Something creative, which was very creative, and that was kind of the genesis of the group that we met with in New Orleans. But it just kept growing because we kept thinking we should be we should include this person and that person and you know Chris I think it might have been only like a week before when he knew who was on the list and there were a number of other people who we would have wanted to add there, and we would have had probably– we would have had representatives from every state, Ii we if we had really thought about it, because of how it grew and how great it was having insight from states of all different sizes. But you know the long and the short of it is that it really was about innovation and how do we work differently together. But Chris where did that name the FOOD group come from again?

Chris: [00:33:47] Ok so don’t quote me on this. But like I said, 10 to 15 years ago, when I first came into this business, so actually 17 now, but when I came into the business, there was a group of I want to say five or six people who would get together regularly, maybe twice a year, in different locations. And it was called, I believe, that it stood for For Our Own Development. But over the years obviously that group has changed and moved them. I don’t even know – that’s probably not what they still call it. So it’s probably something totally different now, but they’ve kept the acronym FOOD intact.

Peter: [00:34:25] So I forgot to ask you guys before we started. So Chris what is your role at the AICPA?

Chris: [00:34:30] So my role– my title is senior manager of state society learning. So basically, over the years, I’ve always kind of been in charge of the live Seminar Training. So obviously we have a pretty robust live seminar business. But obviously you know over the years, as seminars have decreased in popularity, we have increased our presence in the webcast world and you know the on demand world and now we have these new certificates. So I basically work with the state societies on all the different products that we sell, and that they in turn resell to their members. So you know I work with the states on webcasts, work with them on all the different products that we offer that the states sell.

Peter: [00:35:09] And that’s a lot of products. There’s not much shelf room left in the closet we’re all the products are being being announced.

Chris: [00:35:17] There are just so many new thing that you know we’re just developing and these new certificate programs, which are just so popular, so you know a lot has shifted just in the past two to three years, in terms of what they what they are offering.

Peter: [00:35:31] So what are the certificate programs? Just out of curiosity. Because I don’t know if I’m really actually knowledgeable about that.

Chris: [00:35:41] Okay. So we have several different certificate programs. The very first certificate program we came out with probably in 2008, 9, 10 somewhere around in there with the IFRS certificate program and basically it’s a it’s a On-Demand program. And at the end, you get the certificate. And you know now we have digital badges where you can you know put it on your LinkedIn profile and things of that nature. But there are so many more that we’ve developed over the years. I don’t know how many of you think we have… Maybe I don’t know 10 to 15?

Bret: [00:36:14] Somewhere in there. I know that there are digital badges for like 16 or 17 different things, but I think that includes the credentials as well. A lot of it has gone towards… I guess the you know the IFRS is a pretty fundamental type of certificate, but you know more recently, we’ve been working on things like data analytics and blockchain and cyber security, which came out last October. So even more hot topic kind of thing. And just real quick. Yeah we were just talking about this with another group internally but this is– those are products that are really interesting to younger CPAs, that are interesting as differentiators, and that was one of the things we covered in our state society meeting with our partners back in October. A great way to reach that younger demographic and keep them engaged.

Peter: [00:37:07] And what is your role at the AICPA?

Bret: [00:37:09] I’m the director of channel management and development for the association. And so that’s global in nature. The states are where we really cut our teeth on a lot of these programs, but we also work with you know IFAC organizations and commercial training organizations, and my team also has licensing. And so we do a lot of different types of partnering.

Peter: [00:37:34] So this meeting – I guess the one question I have is what was the what was the main pain point or was there a main pain point that you guys came together and were trying to solve?

Bret: [00:37:45] Well there was one we decided to put aside, and that first pain point was Peter Margaritis. Everyone agreed you were a pain.

Peter: [00:37:55] Haha. You’re not the first and you won’t be the last.

Bret: [00:37:59] But the pain that we talked about were within the hard trends of of demographics technology and government regulation. So you know I think we came up with different trends there that created opportunities. I think the way that Amy had us organize it were the trends, the opportunities, the predictable problems. And you know I could tell you what the trends were in the three different categories if you want.

Peter: [00:38:31] Sure.

Bret: [00:38:32] Sure. Okay. Well in demographic, it was the retiring baby boomers. It was also that there are more younger people in the workforce. I mean this is a really obvious trend that creates all kinds of problems when it comes to learning because you have different learning styles and people who grew up with smartphones not even never realizing that their great grandparents probably didn’t play the very first call of duty online. And I say that as you know the father of a teenage son who once asked me that, when he was a little bit younger. You know with the baby boomers retiring and with the younger generation really being dynamic in some really cool ways, still also creates some challenges with how do you reach them. How do you help them learn? Those were the trends in demographic. In government, I think government and regulation. There was there was an increase in regulation. We all identified tax reform, which if you hadn’t heard, happen you know towards the end of last year.

Peter: [00:39:45] All I heard was a cash register going off.

Bret: [00:39:53] Haha! Do you do tax?

Peter: [00:39:53] I used to, years ago, and I know when I first– when the reform came through and it was signed into law, all I just kept hearing was these cash registers going off because there’s a new demand for this information that we have the opportunity to provide.

Bret: [00:40:08] Yes. Definitely. And it is it is a huge opportunity. Just jump ahead to the trends in technology. Not to go too deep into the tax.

Peter: [00:40:17] Right right right.

Bret: [00:40:18] Because one thing I will say, By the way, there’s huge kudos go out to the team for creating products so quickly on that. That’s been very helpful for us. Chris spent a big part of getting that out there with our state partners. But the technology trends are really the globalization of business. The automation the profession. The different platforms that make learning accessible and creating other challengers and competitors for us, I think was another. Specialization. It’s something that the profession is doing. People are specializing to keep a high level of relevance, but it’s also – you’ve got to because of what you know and customer needs and what we, in the profession, need to provide. You know, knowing about bitcoin, knowing about blockchain, knowing about cybersecurity. Things like that.

Peter: [00:41:17] Chris, I got a question for you. As it relates to demographics in this conversation, did some of the conversation lead towards the demographics of the discussion leader pool?

Chris: [00:41:28] No, we did not discuss the discussion leader pool at all. That was it was more just the you know the workplace and you know the purchasers of our products. That too is an issue that we continually face as well.

Peter: [00:41:45] Kristen Rampe did a really nice job on her session about some of the demographics, as relates to the discussion leaders, and how that all that all comes together. I don’t know if you guys talked about that. But but thinking about the demographics and you’ve got this diversity, when you were describing that– I was in Philadelphia two days ago I was doing a session for PICPA, and this partner and this firm, and I thought I said Don’t you know what day it is? This is like April 3rd, you’re supposed to be at the office, not here in my class. He said well we don’t do that much compliance anymore. We’ve kind of gotten out of the compliance business, and he went on to say – I mean he had to be mid mid to late 60s, and he goes we can’t continue to think back in the day, as we say the good old days. We need to think young, we need to think like the young folks and think about how we’re going to mold and change into the future – not the way it was 10, 15 years ago. And I almost fell over because — I mean he’s spot on, on that mindset about we need to think like the Millennials. We need to think like what are they need, not what what we’ve done they should do the same thing.

Chris: [00:43:02] I mean that’s very interesting. I I would think it would be the opposite. You know in terms of we need to get them to be thinking like that. That’s interesting.

Peter: [00:43:13] Yeah yeah. He said he saw early on that compliance was going to be way too much of a commodity, or be overtaken by technology, by block chain or by A.I. or whatever, and over time. And it sounded to me like it’s about a seven-year period, they went from compliance base to more an advisory role with their clients. And I know this has been said in Maryland through Tom Hood that a lot of writing that’s been out there, that that’s kind of way the profession’s going. But it was refreshing to see that someone actually said Yeah this is what we’re doing because we want to be relevant to our clients in the future.

Chris: [00:43:53] And it’s interesting you say that because that was one of the things we talked about the technology trends. You know the increase in automation that we’re going to see in the profession over the next you know three to five years. And you know basically we’re being charged with re-skilling the profession, and you know that’s a big thing within our group here at the association, in terms of what is that going to look like? You know what skills do our professional need going forward? You know it may not be like you said all the compliance stuff because maybe they don’t do that much work in that area anymore. So that was another that was a big discussion we had this particular day.

Peter: [00:44:31] So does that tie back to the horizons 2025 project that came out with what competencies CPAs need in the future, with the communication skills, the leadership skills, the collaboration synthesising, and two or three others?

Chris: [00:44:48] Yeah I think it really does. You know it just it’s a matter of how do we how do we get people to engage and embrace that. Because as you know as an instructor who you know teaches a lot of those things – you know that you know in the past, people been more interested in coming to classes that are compliance based. And not your your leadership skills and things of that nature, but that’s what they’re going to need in future. So it’s a matter of getting them to pay attention to that.

Peter: [00:45:18] And I think that’s I think that’s a huge challenge because how do you get their attention? The pain point’s there. I mean I see some firms recognizing that that pain point – that I hear a lot about we’ve got high turnover, we can’t keep people, whatever. That goes to a lot of those leadership skills, a lot of that ability to communicate and collaborate with others and more of a free fall, versus the old top down approach. But a lot of lot of firms and organizations are structured in that top down situation.

Chris: [00:45:51] Yeah because with the automation, I mean those are the skills that are going to set these people apart in the future. Right. So with the automation, I mean anybody is going to be able you know… that compliance work is not going to be where they’re at. So the skills are going to set them apart in future.

Peter: [00:46:10] At that session, I had this– it was a millennial. I made the comment that I believe Excel will be extinct in the near future and we won’t need a 10 key or calculator because everything will be uploaded, and he thought I was absolutely bonkers. We still have to do calculations. I said the calculations will be done for us. It was just it was almost– I was expecting the response I got from him from the older folks in the room, but the older folks in the room were going yep. They were just telling this guy yeah, that’s the way we’re moving, that’s the way we’re going.

Chris: [00:46:45] Yeah. That’s interesting.

Bret: [00:46:48] I was just going to say we’ve seen some pretty encouraging responses to the human intelligence series that the communication has done on the Facebook Live platform. They went out and I don’t know how long it’s been going on, six or nine months, and I think we’ve already had 2 million views of those, and they’re really focusing on those skills that you’re talking about. And it’s interesting because Michael Grant did one and he was he was talking about you know personal brand. And he mentioned the fact that there were some source that he quoted that said the number one reason that people lose their job is because of their interpersonal skills. It’s not their technical skills, it’s the soft topics that we treat as less important that, it turns out, are the most important things.

Peter: [00:47:41] So from this group’s perspective and talking to them, how do you get action on things moving forward in this direction with the states and with this issue? What kind of– Now that we’ve talked about it, what were those next steps that they were thinking about needed to happen in order for this to get some traction?

Chris: [00:48:04] I mean I think the first step is we came to realize that you know the state societies and the association – we have to do a better job with collaborating with each other. We obviously, at the association, have a lot of stuff right. A lot of you know.

Peter: [00:48:18] Resources.

Chris: [00:48:20] There’s that word I needed. Resources. We have a lot of resources to share. And so the state obviously you know they they have resources, you know whether it’s education or whether it’s you know the free stuff that comes from you know small firm group or what have you. But the state societies themselves have a lot of stuff, as well. And so I think the first step we have to do is we have to collaborate more. And so that’s where we’re at. You know Bret can maybe say a little bit more to that. But that’s the point we’re at now. What are you going to look like when you can collaborate and share our resources because all of our members need it?

Bret: [00:48:57] Yeah that was one of the I think the big item that we spent really spent some time on was how do we how do we do that? And you know who owns that process? And we’re working on it together. But so that Maryland or Ohio or you know someone else doesn’t create what — we’re all creating it at the same time. That’s really inefficient. We are already, ourselves, selling some of the state society content, and they’re selling ours. So is it worth everybody dropping fifty thousand dollars to develop X? No it doesn’t make any sense, and especially when we are serving the profession right. And we will create content that might have an audience, but that doesn’t dictate that it’s you know a big commercial opportunity. But we do it to serve the profession. And so if five of us do that, then that makes it even less efficient. Right. And so you know that’s that’s one of the big things that we need to figure out, that we need to spend some time on it, and that I think we’re even a little off schedule with that but we need to do follow up there. But that that definitely resonated with everyone in the room.

Peter: [00:50:15] Yeah I’ve I’ve witnessed, over time, that we all want to recreate our own wheel, even though the wheel has been created someplace else – and we could all probably gain much more through collaboration and put things together as as a group, versus well if you’ve got yours then I want mine, but I want to make it my own. And this branding and like you said, throwing how many dollars down the rabbit hole where we could partner and share in those resources and share that revenue stream.

Chris: [00:50:51] Yeah absolutely and you know with more you know more regulation and things of that nature ON what you develop, you know as far as you know NASBA regulations and things like that. You know it takes a lot of resources, as a small society, to actually develop content. You know when you could actually you know collaborate with another state society that has already done it.

Peter: [00:51:13] Right. I agree. To jump to technology real quick because what did you guys talk about with the change in technology – You know blockchain, AI, whatever. But what about the technology in the classroom? Did you guys go down that path? How technology is impacting the classroom?

Chris: [00:51:32] We really didn’t. I don’t remember going down that path. You Bret?

Bret: [00:51:36] Yeah we did a little. I would say you know one thing we acknowledge is the need to use the different technologies to reach especially younger audiences. That’s one thing. We also talked about the barrier to entry for education is lower with technology right. Like if you do something in a virtual platform, as long as you can get to the students you know in a small town in Illinois, like I was growing up. You know you could have people attending from all over the country. So it both complicates and makes things easier, I think is the answer. I don’t know. Chris what do you think?

Chris: [00:52:20] Yeah I mean we’re seeing a lot. State studies are embracing the technology through whether it’s simulcast or whatnot because they see opportunities within their state. You know they can’t serve members– you know if you’re in Iowa, you can’t serve members in Storm Lake in Dubuque and you know all these small towns. So this is the way for them or all their members. One thing that just popped into my head. You know the state side is embracing breaking technology, and people get a kick out of that, I had one instructor – last year was his last year to teach for us, and he was still using an overhead projector. And there were a couple of state societies– and he was a fantastic instructor, like a really really well respected instructor. And there was a society society who actually kept the overhead projector for all these years. And I just can’t imagine. He was heartbroken several years ago when we stopped making transparencies.

Peter: [00:53:21] Haha. So now I have seen an overhead projector, more high tech, where you don’t read the transparencies. You can write it on a piece of paper and it projects, but… Haha.

Chris: [00:53:36] That’s old school.

Peter: [00:53:40] But with technology in the classroom – So being one of these instructors who do travel, I mean travel costs are… states societies are very cognizant about these travel costs, and it could either make or break the session, depending upon attendance. And I know Hayden Williams and I, we tested this a couple of years ago where he was going to cancel one of the courses out in Washington. He had kind of almost enough but not quite there, I said well we tested Adobe Connect in San Antonio, the first year for this national conference. Why don’t we give it a shot? I was at my office, like I am now, for eight hours. They were there. We could interact. I just didn’t physically have to be there, but it was almost like I was. Two years ago, the technology was pretty good. But according to some of the attendees, I did sound a little bit like a Godzilla movie at times. Those who remember, the mouth moves and the words finally catch up. But has that been explored in any additional depth?

Chris: [00:54:41] Yeah actually it really has. We’ve had to do that on an emergency basis a couple of years ago, where an instructor could not get to a location due to a flight problem. But there are a couple of things societies with tax reform, when we had that at the beginning of the year, where they didn’t want to pay the travel costs just for somebody to come out one day, and so that particular instructor actually taught it just like you said, from their office, and it was just fine. I think we’re going to see more of that because more and more state societies have that capability now. We even polled all of our instructors and that was one of the questions we asked them – Are you willing to do this? Because not everybody is right. Not everybody is comfortable with the technology, but we do actually in our database have it flagged whether or not an instructor will do that. So I see it in the future we’ll be doing more of that.

Bret: [00:55:32] Not surprising at all that it was Hayden you were doing that innovation with. He has a bit of a reputation.

Peter: [00:55:38] Yeah he does, he is very much an innovator.

Bret: [00:55:43] Absolutely.

Peter: [00:55:44] That was actually– you know I do love traveling. I do like traveling, love traveling, but I really love going out to Seattle. That part of the country. I was a little disappointed I couldn’t go, but I didn’t want the class to cancel. And that’s always been my my concern. Having spent some time on the Ohio society board, and even chair of the board, I get that part of the business. And when we start canceling classes, the members start losing trust and they start looking elsewhere for classes that they can take that are unlikely to cancel, webinars and things like that. And I think if we want to kind of bring seminars alive again, that we have to have some other alternative make sure that we’re still holding them in some type of live environment, and that they’re not canceling them.

Chris: [00:56:35] Yeah it’s been a struggle the last couple of years. You know we’ve definitely seen the numbers decrease. But you know there are people that still like that live interaction. So it’s going to be interesting to see you know, say five years from now, what that like seminars going to look.

Bret: [00:56:49] I don’t like – And I know contrary to trends – but I’d much rather learn face to face. But I just want to say something related to that, and that is with the virtual technology. It’s actually a different skill set, from an instructor perspective. And so you may have somebody who’s really good in the room, they kind of need to reskill a little bit, right Chris? As far as if they’re going to– you know they may not come out as well in reviews if they don’t have experience in delivering through a virtual platform.

Chris: [00:57:27] Yeah I think you know… we didn’t have an instructor symposium this year. Last year when we had it, we did bring a guy who specialized in virtual training, and it just kind of I think just touched the tip of the iceberg in terms of the information that they need. But I think going forward, that’s going to be critical. It’s going to be just as critical as teaching somebody how to– you know Pete has been to many of these you know like training the trainer sessions, right, where you know you learn how to make the class more interactive. I mean I think that technology’s going to be just as important going forward.

Peter: [00:58:02] Actually you remember you remember Lynn Nichols?

Chris: [00:58:06] Yes.

Peter: [00:58:07] Lynn is still around, and actually Chris Jenkins out of South Carolina contracted both Lynn and myself to develop a two and a half day discussion leader Academy for a group of CPAs who are South Carolina based that he wanted to give them this type of training. And it was an absolute blast and they loved it. We’re actually in the process to trying to schedule it again for another group here in the month of June.

Chris: [00:58:30] Very very cool.

Peter: [00:58:34] It helps with– the ability to engage an audience in the classroom is critical to that learning, versus that lecture head and just delivering of information. You’ve got to engage that audience. I will say, it’s a little difficult at times to engage CPAs. I had one gentleman tell me once. No no no no don’t engage me. I’m just here to sit and listen. I don’t want to I don’t want to– I’m going okay, that’s fine. To this content and learning, you guys did mention about technology. I’m seeing more and more written in state societies and Accounting Today, in the Journal of Accountancy, about blockchain and artificial intelligence and machine learning. Are we– do we have products that we are delivering at the national and state level on these topics? Does anybody teach blockchain?

Chris: [00:59:24] At the state society level I haven’t seen a whole lot of it. You know we don’t have– I mean we do have some learning surrounding that right now. But you know I think we’re kind of in the early stages of that. When you think you know at the state level, you teach seminars right at the state society level, when you go into that classroom. I mean am I correct in saying that most of the people in there are your sole practitioners, your smaller firms? You know some people from business and industry? I mean those folks right now are not the ones who are probably interested necessarily in blockchain – yet.

Peter: [00:59:58] Right.

Chris: [01:00:00] You know I think you know we’re kind of in the early stages of all of that. Wouldn’t you agree with that Bret?

Bret: [01:00:08] Yeah I mean I would say it’s… there is content coming in very short order that I think is going to be in that digital format. You know a self-paced learning, and I even think some of the stuff that we’re working on has augmented reality aspects to it. I mean it’s really cool. But yeah as far as face to face learning, at this point, I don’t think it’s quite there yet.

Peter: [01:00:35] Well I would assume that if it’s not at this level yet, that the bigs are doing it at their level. They have some type of content or discussion leader or that subject matter expert that’s helping them understand this process.

Bret: [01:00:52] Well and we are working with certain industry leaders as well. I know in blockchain that we are, I know in cyber security we have. And that’s kind of a new thing for us is, with all the specialization, you have to have to reach out and get some people who really are digging into the cracks of some of that stuff.

Peter: [01:01:13] Yeah I think the one thing that fascinated me was… did you attend Amy Vetter’s opening keynote session?

Chris: [01:01:20] Yes.

Peter: [01:01:23] Bret, had you already left?

Bret: [01:01:25] I came in for the FOOD group / escape room committee and then I left. So I missed it.

Peter: [01:01:33] Amy was talking about – She’s an I.T. expert, wonderful speaker – but she was talking about the different levels of machine learning that my head just exploded because I don’t think I really realize that– Now that she’s brought to my attention I see it, but the machine will actually learn and improve its processes as it continues to learn more, and in my mind, that’s a whole ball of was.

Chris: [01:02:07] That’s a whole nother universe out there. Haha.

Bret: [01:02:11] Some Isaac Asimov stuff right there. Seriously. You have a machine that learns and grows. You know it’s it’s really cool. I wish–

Peter: [01:02:23] Don’t unplug me Hal. Not right now. We can’t do that. And wrapping up, what what other marching orders– I don’t like that word. What other initiatives that the states are undertaking and that we will circle back and make sure that we’re all holding each other accountable in solving that those pain points or was there something there that we haven’t discussed that needs to be discussed?

Bret: [01:02:52] I’ll throw this out there. We– you know that meeting was about innovation and additional innovation. It should be noted that we have been innovating together on a lot of things outside of that meeting and process. So you know we’re working together on the self study OnDemand or e-learning content. And you know working with the states that you know we have branded portals for state societies. You know a lot of it is about the soft interaction of a state society member coming to a state to buy something. Getting an email thank you from the state, going to a portal that’s got the State’s brand on it, and that’s all enabled by technology that we’ve been working on. And so in different states taking their lumps with us on that, which I think is great, so that you know that that sort of thing is ongoing and sort of natural. I don’t know how to say it. It’s like we didn’t really plan for it. It’s just been necessary. But coming out of the meeting, Chris, would you say– I mean what do you think?

Chris: [01:04:01] Well I mean it’s just you know the the action, or should I say from you know that meeting, you know first you know all the different things they have to go back and you know kind of get the buy in from their leadership, you know to move forward with whatever is going to morph out of this, you know whether it’s going to be a centralized database, whether it’s going to be you know housing all the different stuff that the state societies have. They’ve got to get the buy in from the leadership, and then from there, we’ve got to figure out who are are going to be key players? You know who’s going to who’s going to host the technology or who’s going to develop it? How is it going to get built you know? So those are those are all things that will be down the road. I believe that, as I’m looking here my notes, I believe we already missed the first the first thing, which was getting the buy in from leadership. But I’m actually going to follow up with one of the guys from the meeting today, before I leave, to see where we’re at on that. So that was kind of the first step and then you know we’ll take steps two and three once we’ve gone down the road. But we also have, as you know, an interchange meeting where this conference, that takes place every July, and so that’s going to be kind of a time when we can get to get back to get this group back together and probably knock out some planning at that meeting.

Peter: [01:05:22] I think that challenge of getting the buy in from leadership, and I think the definition of leadership is two parts: one, getting the buy in from the CEO or the executive director of the Association or society, and two, getting the buy in from the board.

Chris: [01:05:44] Two separate problems.

Peter: [01:05:45] Because I think getting the buy in from from the exec – that’s not can be as difficult. But getting the buy in from the board and having them recognize the urgency here, as well as the pain points… I would love to go in and you know you’re presenting something like this, and you start getting we can’t do that. That kind of atmosphere and just go let’s try this – what if we could? What would that look like? We’ve all played the what if game. What if I win the lottery? I wouldn’t be talking to you guys right now right. OK. Bingo. I actually I got to give credit where credit is due. Brad Hoffman, who’s a partner and firm and Maryland, DeLong and Stang, I interviewed him for part of my upcoming book and he mentioned this that he does with his clients: when they push back on we can’t do that, he goes well just humor me for a moment. What if we could, what would it look like? It’s like you’re giving them permission now that they can kind of think crazy or what would this look like. He says it’s amazing what happens when you give them that permission.

Bret: [01:06:59] I think one of the challenges there on that we can’t do this I find really interesting is the we tried it before and it didn’t work. That’s another one. And it’s you know well I tried. Maybe I would have loved to have had a phone that I could actually walk around with when I was in high school, but they have them now. You know things change so quickly that you know something that wasn’t possible the year before could be possible in the very next year. So that’s an interesting one because so many things can make things fail. But that’s that’s an easy excuse that people need to get past that thing.

Peter: [01:07:43] Oh I you saw me jump out of my chair when you said that because that’s the other one. And it goes like well. How long ago did you try that? My wife and I were having this conversation last night. Well maybe three or four years. Technology has changed. Maybe we could do it now.

Chris: [01:08:00] You, Pete, of all people know, if you can’t do it, you have to dump Sally, right?

Peter: [01:08:04] Right. You got to dump Sally. And actually I had one group say isn’t that a little harsh? Shouldn’t we just let her down easy. And I said no, we gotta dump her and move forward. We got to come to a portion of that – when we talk about innovation, it’s innovation– I look at innovation and I said there’s two pieces to that. One is creativity and one is applying that, how to effectively apply creativity. And if we can get organizations to think I need the quantity of ideas in order to get quality ones, and create an atmosphere that allows for these ideas, albeit crazy ones at times, and not be punitive in nature, and you’ll get so many ideas out of people that you wouldn’t believe, if you create that culture that allows that. And I think that’s also part of getting past a lot of these challenges that we have.

Chris: [01:09:04] Yeah I would definitely agree with that. You’ve got to create the culture – just like all these soft skills and the stuff that we’re talking about that we’re going to need in the future. You also have to position your organization to embrace that.

Peter: [01:09:18] Right. Exactly.

Bret: [01:09:19] And not make it sound like wizardry. Right. You’re not inventing the lightbulb. I mean a lot of these things can be really simple. The best ideas are small, you know are simple ideas.

Peter: [01:09:34] Exactly. And the other – and we’re going to wrap up on this – But Jennifer Oleksa said this: That when she was listen to Amy Vetter’s presentation, Amy was talking a lot about firms, but she said It dawned on her she’s also talking indirectly to state societies about how they have to change and redesign themselves in order to meet that. And that was her that was her big aha moment from that keynote was that this is not just about the firms, it’s about us as a society, us as a CPE deliverer, that we need to do that same process.

Chris: [01:10:11] Yeah absolutely. How do you stay relevant? Because you’re not relevant, your members aren’t going to be there.

Peter: [01:10:18] That’s right. You’ve lost all types of trust. Any last words before we wrap this up?

Chris: [01:10:23] All I have to say is go Cubs. Go Cubs go.

Peter: [01:10:28] I’m looking at Chris and he’s wearing a Cub jacket. He’s got Cub stuff all over the place. I believe he might be, outside of Bill Murray, one of the big Cubs fans. If they weren’t in the division– I root for the Cubs, except when they play and beat the Reds.

Chris: [01:10:47] I actually… the Reds are fine as long as we can agree though that we don’t like St. Louis.

Peter: [01:10:53] Oh yes. Oh yeah. We can agree. What about you Bret? What you got?

Bret: [01:10:59] We’ll go Cubs as well, of course. I’m a Cubs fan. One of the things that really bring Chris and I together. But last thoughts, I think we’ve covered just about everything – and it’s just we need to go out and find the time and do the work.

Peter: [01:11:13] You’re right. We’ve got to find the time. We got to get the work done and we got to keep this in the forefront of our minds, and that’s really the reason why I want to do these interviews, to kind of help you guys out and keeping the message alive, and so we can move forward and maintain our relevance. So I’ll wrap up by saying thank you both very much for your time. I greatly appreciate it and I look forward to the next time we run into each other because I want to have a whole lot of people buy pints for Bret so he could tell the story.

Bret: [01:11:46] Hahaha.

Chris: [01:11:49] Alright, thanks Pete.

Peter: [01:11:49] I would like to thank Michelle, Jennifer, Chris, and Bret for sharing their thoughts and perspectives from the conference on how we can begin to develop and design the CPE for the future. In Episode 3, my guest is Eddie Turner, who is a specialist and a deep generalist. He is a Certified Information Technology expert with digital marketing, social media, and leadership development experience. Thank you for listening, and begin the process of changing your mindset and getting out of your comfort zone and develop new skill sets to become more future ready. Remember, this is a process that requires daily application with a big dose of applied improvisation.



S2E1 – Amy Vetter | The Future of Accounting: How Firms Need to Change & Why We Need to Become Cherished Business Advisors

This is an exciting time to be in the accounting profession – we are at a turning point, and the profession is recognizing that just counting beans is not going to get us into the next century (or even the next decade). We need to change our role and relationships with our clients, and we need to be proactive about investing in developing technologies that will allow us to do so.


That’s why I sat down to talk with Amy Vetter, a key influencer in the accounting industry and an accomplished tech executive, entrepreneur, and keynote speaker. Amy is the author of Integrative Advisory Services: Expanding Your Accounting Services Beyond the Cloud, the CPA and accounting professions’ guide to the future of delivering advisory services to their clients.


I’ve been dying to interview Amy since I saw her speak at the 2018 National CPE Educators Conference in New Orleans. She was the kick-off keynote speaker of this conference, and let me just sum her presentation up: She knocked us over!


Amy just understands what the profession needs going forward, and on top of that, she has a knack for explaining what the profession needs going forward – and that’s why her book is so valuable.


Integrative Advisory Services is a toolbox that any firm can pick up (and should) if they want to begin thinking differently.


It’s an effective (and surprisingly interesting) accounting book because there are a lot of stories; real life experiences that relate to how we can help clients, the challenges that the profession is facing with technology, and what we can do about it.


One of the key ideas in the book is that we need to evolve our relationship with our clients. We need to become CHERISHED Business Advisors – not trusted.


We’ve been talking about being the ‘trusted business advisor’ in the profession for a long time, but if you look up the definition of trusted, it means you’re being honest and sincere.


“And to me that doesn’t describe that relationship because that’s what we should be. We take ethics courses. We have a CPA exam and say we’re going to be ethical… I don’t feel like that’s something that you should be striving for. You just should be that.”


What you want to strive for is being cherished – when clients can’t imagine not having you as part of their business because you are providing so much value. Money isn’t an issue because you’re an integral part of their business.


“As an advisor, you’re helping to save businesses. You’re helping them stay in business. You’re helping their families, their employees’ families. It’s the most rewarding job as an accountant, I believe, when you can get in that role.”


Download this Episode MP3.



Click to download the full Transcript PDF.



Peter: [00:00:00] Welcome to Episode 1, and my guest today is Amy Vetter, who’s a CPA and a certified information technology professional, and a certified Global Management Accountant. Amy is a key influence in the accounting industry, and an accomplished tech executive, entrepreneur, and keynote speaker. Amy is the author of two books, the first titled “Business, Balance, and Bliss: How the B3 method can transform your career and life.” Amy presented the popular TEDxTalk: “Disconnect to Connect: The path to work-life harmony.” Amy’s second book, “Integrative Advisory Services: Expanding your accounting services beyond the cloud” is the CPA and accounting professions’ guide to the future of delivering advisory services to their clients. And this is the focus of our discussion in this episode. Amy has been recognized as a top 100 most influential person by accounting today, and one of the most powerful women in accounting by CPA practice advisor. She regularly contributes her insights to Entrepreneur, Inc., CPA Practice Advisor, and Accounting Today. And you can follow her on Twitter @AmyVetterCPA. So without further ado, let’s get to the interview with Amy Vetter. Hey everybody. I’m welcoming my new guest. I’ve been dying to interview her. Amy Vetter. And just so you know, I attended the 2018 national CPE Educator’s Conference in New Orleans and Amy was kick off keynote speaker of this conference. And let me just sum it up: She knocked them over. I mean it was it was a great presentation. And we’re going to talk a lot about that because it’s tied into her book: “Integrative Advisory Services: Expanding your accounting services beyond the cloud,” and for those of you who are watching this on YouTube, I just put book up so you can see. If you’re listening, please also watch it on YouTube. Amy, thank you for taking time out of your very busy schedule to spend some time with me today.

Amy: [00:02:07] Thanks for having me on.

Peter: [00:02:08] I’ve been looking forward to this and I appreciate you sending me a copy of the book because I read it and I really really enjoyed it. It’s a toolbox. It’s– every firm should pick up this book and read it and begin to think differently.

Amy: [00:02:25] Well thank you. Most people don’t say I just enjoyed every minute of an accounting book. So that’s a big deal.

: [00:02:30] [laughs]

Peter: [00:02:35] Well let’s let’s let’s let let’s straight– now it’s not a debits and credits– it’s not a Kieso and Weygandt 55th edition of intermediate accounting. And I’ll just start off by say the reason why I liked it is because you use a lot of stories in here.

Amy: [00:02:52] Yeah.

Peter: [00:02:54] And real life stuff and how you help and the challenges that the profession is facing, with technology, and what we can do. And you tie in family members. And I thought it was– That’s why I think it’s a fabulous accounting book.

Amy: [00:03:10] Thank you very much. I tried. You know like you said I have a long history in the accounting profession, studying from my grandfather, as I talked talk about in the book. But also having my own practice, and really when I started my practice it wasn’t cool to have this type of practice. I definitely, as a CPA, was– other CPAs were like what are you doing? And I you know started in an audit. That was my background. When I started my practice, and this is really before technology was anywhere near where it is today, I didn’t want to do audit or tax as a sole practitioner because I was worried about the liability.

Peter: [00:03:56] Right.

Amy: [00:03:56] So I started really by accident along the way in this type of practice – because originally I thought well I’ll do a bookkeeping business. And what became interesting was the calls that I got in were different than what I expected. And it was business owners asking me to help them do their books. You know where they had questions and they still wanted to be in control of it. And it was definitely in the beginnings times of QuickBooks desktop, and you know that really… I started moving more into controllership and advisory services, and when they need a bookkeepers, bringing bookkeepers. But that’s– you know your business kind of changes based on who calls you. Over time, I just kept searching out technology – what would make it easier, what would make this easier – And was definitely on some of the first hosting software ever. And those came out and file sharing. And then over time, this has really become a pretty big passion for me to really stay ahead of where technology is to help the accounting profession, as a whole, evolve and be able to deliver the type of customer service our clients need so badly.

Peter: [00:05:15] Exactly. I just get mesmerized because we speak the same language. What made you chose the firm and turn your business model now into the author, a speaker, a keynoted person?

Amy: [00:05:32] I was always a speaker. So I mean I think I look back… even in college, I was like a teaching assistant and I just loved the education. I was an adjunct professor. I’m actually going back to that a little bit as well at University of Cincinnati.

Peter: [00:05:50] Oh. Go Bearcats.

Amy: [00:05:51] Yeah. So however when I started my business, growing up in an entrepreneurial family, I had started my experience in accounting with all the Fortune 500 companies. Being an auditor, working for KPMG, and then through internal audit you know at Fortune 500, and hadn’t really worked in the small business space since I had been young. When I opened up my own practice, I remembered how much I wanted to help small business owners because they don’t have the tools that a big company has, or the expertise. And so I started this… you know really getting gratification, going one by one to a client and helping. But what I started finding is I was getting asked to speak or do workshops, and when I could see that I spoke to accountants, I could actually help thousands of small businesses at a time because each accountant represents all their small business clients, and really that one to many… even if it’s just one account in the room where you turn the light bulb on, you can affect so many small business lives. So that really took my passion and a whole nother direction. I ended up selling my business in 2010 and I’ve been working at technology companies, being a speaker for technology companies, but also it’s just my passion to really– this is just such an exciting time in the accounting profession because it’s all coming together in this moment, where people are actually opening their eyes to what we can be and how we can help. And it’s just exciting to be a part of that as a speaker and author this time.

Peter: [00:07:43] Yeah it is it’s it’s amazing how the profession is recognizing that just counting beans is not going to get them into this next century, into this next you know 10, 15 years. It’s you know I remember when I was trying to do– we called them soft skills, but I tell them don’t you think you’re pretty hard to master?

Amy: [00:08:02] Yeah.

Peter: [00:08:03] Do this type of programming and I was always a push back. You know we need it but I’m not going to invest into it. Most of my business early on was you know basically teachin accounting because I taught accounting at Ohio Dominican and doing all of that. But then over the last four to five years, I don’t teach any technical accounting any more. It’s all this all this based around the concept of improvisation is a communication tool. And I see light bulbs go off and these ideas. And this is where we need to– I see that excitement out there. The ones who I don’t see the excitement with, they’re ready to retire. And really they should retire and turn it over to somebody who can take the firm into this next iteration of accounting.

Amy: [00:08:50] Yeah and I would agree. And I think improv is a great way to coin the term, just because that’s what advisory services is. You can’t plan for the question right. You have to be OK with the answer of I don’t know. I’ll go look for that. For you. You don’t have to be an expert on the fly. But you know clients appreciate that, as far as customer service. I would say, with the succession planning issue, I totally agree. There are definitely partners that… you know and it’s a struggle within the firm of people that want to change the firm and the partners that are retiring and that don’t want to invest in it. But the scary part is, and the more I work with different firms, they are risking retirement, of being able to retire, because if they don’t make that investment, there’s no one that’s going to want to take their spot because, really, someone can go and just set up technology in the right way, in their own practice, and not have to pay for the expense of trying to change what somebody else has in place. They don’t just pay for customers anymore. They need to make sure that there’s an infrastructure that’s going to take them into the future.

Peter: [00:10:09] Exactly. And I think those those– I love the word that you are using because your– question is if you’re really an accountant because–.

Amy: [00:10:21] Hahaha. I am half yogi. Haha.

Peter: [00:10:21] I hear more can use this term: What’s it going to cost me? But you don’t use the word cost. You use the word: It’s an investment. And I’ve been on this crusade of when you just change that usage of word, it has a whole different meaning – investments is more of an action, or makes you think long term. Cost is something like right now it’s gone and I’m never going to recoup that.

Amy: [00:10:48] And investment means your future of retirement. It’s a very scary time for all these people that have worked so hard to build a firm, you know work 60, 70 hours a week in their life, and then you get to retirement, and because you haven’t made that investment to change for the future, you’re looking at what you expected to happen not happening. And so it is a really important thing to take the time right now, and effort. And get the right people involved in the firm that you’re looking at to be the leader next so you know so that you can set them up for success and empower them to really give guidance on what to do next.

Peter: [00:11:33] Right. So it looks like that and let’s move into your book because. I think– talking about the book, what we’re saying here, I think it becomes very clear. Now you said you had family members and you start your book off talking about a family member who started their career in accounting.

Amy: [00:11:49] Sure. So I actually didn’t know him that well, but he’s actually been kind of guiding light in my life because my grandfather, who died when I was 3, was used as an example a lot as I grew up. So my grandfather was a CPA and a very– I mean you’re talking the profession started in like 1880s. He was you know a CPA in 1935 in Minnesota. So very different time in the accounting profession and his family was a family of immigrants. And so you know many of the stories that I had growing up was about how he was really trying to help other people. Everyone’s trying to get out of their situation.

Peter: [00:12:35] Right.

Amy: [00:12:35] And so you know he didn’t necessarily get paid in money. Sometimes it was fur coats from my mom each year, where you know they got tickets to the symphony because he played violin. So it was a very different time as far as… because everybody just had to use what they had to get ahead. So that was really my perspective because that was the stories my mom told me, and she had chosen not to be an accountant and went into art. And I think always felt that she had let her father down or made a mistake. And so you know very early on, by the time I was 12, I was saying I was going to be a CPA, and I didn’t even know what that meant! So… But I what I did know was my mom later on opened her own business that I worked in from a very young age, and I did want to help people like my mom. She would take me to trade show events and and… like Chamber of Commerce, she was involved with construction management companies, because they were maid service. And so I started hearing the stories of all these business owners and really thinking like… you know, originally, I was planning to go work on her business once I graduated college. But her business had closed by the time I got out of college. And so it was really having that in the background between what I had heard about my grandfather, and knowing what small businesses go through and why I wanted to help. Now I didn’t get there right away because I went through the traditional public accounting route, and I was like this is what I was told.

Peter: [00:14:31] [laughs]

Amy: [00:14:31] This is not what I thought. And you know just kind kept you know going through that. But then when I opened my business and saw how much you can help. But it really takes you know – going back to the improv – or creativity as an accountant, to be an advisor. Because you know businesses are asking questions that you know they’re trying to figure out a better way to go about their business and using your financial skills. You’re helping save business. You’re helping them stay in business. You’re helping their families, their employees families. It’s the most rewarding job as an accountant, I believe, when you can get in that role.

Peter: [00:15:12] Right. instead of delivering a product and service, you’re deliver an experience, you’re delivering more than that. Call it client relationship, outstanding customer service, outstanding experience. But as a gentleman who is a partner of a firm in Maryland. We were talking and he said yeah I try to provide that experience because – just like you, you started your business for some passion. There’s a reason why. And I want to find out what that emotion is so I can understand them better. And I said Brad, you said emotion, you sure you’re a CPA? Trust me, I almost got out of public accounting and started my own firm because of that. But the firm is worth now they just gravitate on it, and just getting to know that that client a lot better than just a transaction.

Amy: [00:16:07] Yeah. And I think that’s where a lot of accounting firms get stuck because they start pricing themselves out. Like oh well this firm is less than me. You know as far as what they charge, or the bookkeeper down the street. But it’s really– to the customer, it has nothing to do with the price. It has to do with the… are they– What are they getting out of the experience? They can get a tax return through anyone that just pushes a tax return through e-mail to them. But is someone actually caring about me and my business and my worries that I have at night, and can actually help me overcome that? And when you become that with your client, there is no one that they would leave you for – because they can’t imagine running their business without you!

Peter: [00:17:00] And as you’re describing that I went Oh I remember. I was paying attention at the presentation. You basically call that, in your book, that cherished business advisor.

Amy: [00:17:15] Yes.

Peter: [00:17:15] Not trusted, which we’ve been talking about in the profession for a long time, the trusted business advisor. But when you describe that. Well when you had that cherish, trust is built in there.

Amy: [00:17:26] Yes.

Peter: [00:17:28] Yeah. And I think the more that we recognize that we really need to be that cherished business advisor takes– takes the business to a whole new level.

Amy: [00:17:40] Yeah, when I was writing the book, it actually took me a while to figure out that term. I searched and searched for the word I was looking for because I was remembering some clients I had that… like for instance, I had a construction client during 2006 in south Florida that was taking a huge hit. Right.

Peter: [00:18:03] Oooh. Yeah.

Amy: [00:18:03] And I was working as their outsourced controller and then I had a bookkeeper on the account, and I’d meet with them once a month. And her thing about coming to me in the first place was say you know I I was a VP at a large fortune 500 corporation. Now I’m running a small business. But I need to still think like a corporation and I need someone like you and your business. And then when they got hit with with everything that happened, she called me one month and said I only have two hundred dollars. Will you meet with me? And I’m like– that’s the goal. Like $200. It didn’t matter the money, but like 200 dollars to her at that moment was like ten thousand dollars.

Peter: [00:18:50] Right. Right. Right. Right.

Amy: [00:18:51] So the fact that she was like What can I get as far as your time with that two hundred dollars that will help me survive? And so when I was thinking about that we call ourselves trusted advisers, I looked up the definition of trusted. And that means you’re honest and sincere. And to me that doesn’t describe that relationship because that’s what we should be. We take ethics courses. We have a CPA exam and say we’re going to be ethical. Something about being a CPA represents that.

Peter: [00:19:25] Right.

Amy: [00:19:26] And hopefully, any of us that are accountants and have the responsibility that we have to our clients are ethical people. Right. But I don’t feel like that’s something that you should be striving for. You should just be that. What you want to strive for is to be cherished – that your clients can’t imagine not having you as part of their business because you are providing so much value. That the money is not the issue. It’s like you’re an integral part of their business.

Peter: [00:20:01] Right. Right exactly. And I love how you just framed that, that that whole piece there. And for those of you who are listening and or watching, take a moment to reflect back on this cherished business advisor – and if you’re not one already, how can you become that? It is not going to happen overnight.

Amy: [00:20:21] No.

Peter: [00:20:21] But if you start taking these little steps every single day, next thing you know you will have evolved into that cherished business advisor. So what was the conversation – because you’re a technology expert as well. I forgot the credential.

Amy: [00:20:40] CITP and CGMA. Yeah. Haha.

Peter: [00:20:41] Yeah. The CITP. So we’ve been hearing for a long time that technology is going to have an impact on the professor, and all these jobs potentially could go away – which I don’t believe, we’ll just be– we’ll just mold into something new. But what challenges do you see out there, as it relates to technology and the adoption of technology that firms might be dragging their feet on? Going Wait wait wait. I remember the whole thing called IFRS, which turned out to be like the metric system in the US. So until something happens I’m not going to pay attention to it. This is something I need to pay attention now because it is happening.

Amy: [00:21:14] Yes. So I think that’s a good comparison because, when we are given a standard or regulation we’re really good at changing, but when we’re given like this is where a future is going but there’s not necessarily a standard or a checklist of how to get there, we drag our feet a bit in this profession. And so that’s really why I read the book. There’s lots of checklists in there and steps to help you along by doing that. But if you think about it, there’s no desktop software out there that’s innovating. You know it’s in the cloud. Like this is where technology companies are spending their money.

Peter: [00:21:58] Right.

Amy: [00:21:58] And this is where the future is going. And your clients have an expectation of that as well. And like you, I don’t believe that accounting is going away – the skill set is so important. But we’ve gotten away from our expertise, what we know on the inside, and selling that as a service, versus a paper return, or an audit report. That’s actually not the product. Our advice is always the most important piece of this, is what somebody needs from us. And the problem is, and going back to your example, is firms traditionally have always focused on AMA credit, and that’s– you know whether I do audit or not, or tax, like I have to take that kind of credit. And instead of spending time on the soft skills that we need to have, and like you said it takes time to evolve that, and a different mindset in the accounting practice to teach it. Because too many times when I give this talk, you know when I explain advisory services and and what it is and how to deliver it, many partners will be like my staff can never do that. Well that’s just not true. We have to take time to delegate and we have to take time to trust our staff, and teach them, and not just leave it to well we’ll see if they can fly on a wing and figure it out.

Peter: [00:23:26] Right. Right. Next up is a partner who says all my staff can’t do that, just pause for a moment and go well OK. Just let’s take a moment. What if we– what if they could? What would that look like? Somebody just for seriously taught me that. And I love that because – just what would it look like if we could? Start pushing them down that path so they’ll start thinking about it.

Amy: [00:23:54] Visualizing it. Yeah absolutely yeah. And it really does take the shadowing, allowing staff people to come in to client meetings that you might have not have them come and go and just watch the conversation and how the back and forth goes and how you went about, when you give them the opportunity to ask you questions and say How did you know that answer? or where did you go to find that? So that they can start building the skills up as well. But you know when we have such a linear firm, we eliminate that opportunity to allow lower staff people to see what managers do, what partners do, and so forth, so they’re ready for that next level and can start building those skills

Peter: [00:24:38] Then how do I bill for their time?

Amy: [00:24:41] Hahaha. Exactly. Hahaha. It’s an investment.

Peter: [00:24:49] It’s an investment. There’s a friend of mine who’s in a firm, was in a firm in the D.C. area. One of her clients, tax returns was was done, so she said hey how about if I just drop it off? It’s on my way home. Partner said fine. When she dropped it off, she was so surprised that someone came out to visit her. She goes do you want to learn more about my business? And she was in the horse business, and my friend spent three and a half hours going through the barns and understanding what– and came back the next day and shared the story with the partners. What did the partners ask her?

Amy: [00:25:29] How did you bill for it?

Peter: [00:25:31] Exactly! How did she bill for it? And she said I basically resigned at that point in time.

Amy: [00:25:37] Mhm. Yeah. Instead of looking at it– by doing what she did, she probably brought in ten thousand dollars worth of business for the next year, if that had been worked, you know, the right way.

Peter: [00:25:48] Right.

Amy: [00:25:48] Because she cared. There’s not an entrepreneur in the world that will not talk your ear off about their business. They love being asked about their business. They love telling you all the great things they’ve done, and they also want to be able to trust somebody that they can tell you whether or not doing so well too…

Peter: [00:26:09] Right.

Amy: [00:26:10] Someone to confide in.

Peter: [00:26:10] Exactly. And so this partner of this firm in Maryland, his name is Brad Hoffman. I asked him once, I said so what do you say when somebody says tell me about your firm? He says I really don’t at first. He says I ask, ‘Well tell me about your business first.’ Then on the side, just what you said. What business owner doesn’t want to tell you about their business? And just from that just from that aspect, he says I’m just listening the whole thing, and then after they’re done I’ll give a twist or turn or tell them about our business. But no I just want to learn more about their business. And he is able to keep and attract more business that way by doing that. Other than saying We’ve got 35 partners with 100 associates, we’ve been in the community since 1800s, we give back and we reinvest in the community. Those are facts and figures and nobody cares! You’re not differentiating yourself but until you can – I always said if I was a member of that firm and somebody said tell me about your firm, I’d say we were in the people business because we really care about the people that work with us and about our clients and their families. By the way, tell me more about yours.

Amy: [00:27:18] Yeah yeah. There’s a whole section in this book about sales process, but it talks a lot about the open ended question, and how to practice that, as well if that doesn’t come naturally to you. And you now it’s a really important thing that your friend is doing because when it comes back to talk about his business, he is going to frame it against what the pain points of that client. So when you were talking about you struggle with cash flow, we have a whole team that that’s what they focus on for their small business clients, and they’re able to easily turn around businesses within a year. You know or something– where that’s a better way to explain your business because then it’s like oh I won’t like because I need that, rather than, like you said, just listing off all your service for clients that actually mean nothing. Who knows what write up means?

Peter: [00:28:07] I think that’s the other challenge we have in the profession: taking that complex information that’s between our ears and be able to put it in context, so somebody could understand, even within our own profession.

Amy: [00:28:22] And speaking in your client’s language.

Peter: [00:28:24] And speaking in your client’s language, not the language of accounts. Because as we both know, you say depreciation to a non accountant, that they think that’s a value that they lose in the car when they drive off the new car lot. No no no. It’s a systematic allocation of an asset over time. Aiyooo?!

Amy: [00:28:41] Yeah exactly.

Peter: [00:28:43] So technology. I hear a lot now about AI and block chain. The first time I heard somebody say block chain, I though it was an intestinal disorder. But I found out that it’s not! It’s a big impact into the, into our profession, and I’m I’m seeing more and more states societies and accounting today write about a block chain. Can you, at a 5000 foot level, kind of explain block chain.

Amy: [00:29:15] Sure. So I will do my best. But basically, with AI, machine learning, and the evolution of Cloud Accounting, a lot of times these things are looked at in the profession like it’s taking our jobs away. And let me tell you, I talked to businesses from all different professions, and every profession is dealing with disruption right now because of this. Right. Because anything, like accounting, that’s a structured as it is, AI machine learning can enter because that– you know then there’s a structure to program into a system, which is what causes us to step back and retool and create a different experience with our customers. So what artificial intelligence is is basically taking our own business intelligence and trying to program that into a computer so that the computer can start figuring out those things. And the difference is machine learning actually starts learning that intelligence; rather than us programming it in, it learns from what the programming is doing. And then we are– there’s a singular way of looking at machine learning where it might code something for us on an invoice and so forth, where you know because it’s been coded that way a million times, the computer’s picked up that that’s the coding you should use in a transaction. Or when we go into a deep machine learning, it tries to mimic what our brain does. So if you think about all the neural networks in our brain, you know they’re all crossing and interconnected because they start learning from each other. Well that’s the same thing in a computer system once we get to deep learning. So an example of that is if you’ve heard of google translate, it will not only recognize a picture of what that picture is, but then it’s also going to translate that into your language. So it gives you a multiple layer look at and the Machine figuring out different ways to communicate. So that is a disruptor in itself because you know a lot of the data entry work the machines can start doing that isn’t necessarily a value added piece of the engagement. It actually frees up our time so we can spend more time with our clients – it doesn’t bring our value down. What it does is give us the information quicker so that we can start analyzing it. Now with block chain, this has been a disruptor, especially where the AICPA is looking right now, in the audit space, because I think 80 percent of the banks right now have projects in place with block chain. You know you think about it as a chain, but it’s a chain of transactions and that chain can be anything – it can be titles to properties, it can be all sorts of things. But because one piece of the chain interlocks with the next one, it’s harder for fraud to occur because they’re all dependent on each other. So you would have to be able– if you wanted to alter a piece of the chain, you would have to alter everything before i and then what it affected after it, which would be pretty complex in the system. Not to say it couldn’t happen, but the risk of it happening is a lot different. So the AICPA has been really trying to work on the audit side to get exposure up to this because you know eventually, most likely, you know where the audit is going to go is more about cyber security and auditing the actual technology and where the information is filtering from, rather than the transactions because the transactions are most likely correct if the technology is working properly. And so when you have a block chain, basically another way of putting it as this triple entry accounting, is the record is on the block chain. But it’s also in the accounting system of– or system of record, from the supplier and the customer, all at the same time. So it’s all being recorded at the same time, and marked with the same identifier. So that’s my quick and dirty– haha.

Peter: [00:33:56] I appreciate that because when I asked Tom Hood a while back, he goes I’m still learning this and I’m still trying to figure it out. And that was about eight months ago. So I love how now… The ability to explain it has gotten a lot better than it was you know less than a year ago. But as you’re talking, you the one thing I’m hearing is OK we’ll get information quicker. We’ll be able to do more. Hey wait a minute. I got a budget for this many hours that we’ve had over the last with this client. So I’m not… I’m going to have to cut the time down? Well that’s going to hurt my revenue stream.

Amy: [00:34:36] Exactly. And so that’s where your billing has to change. Just because you got smarter or you put better technology in place to deliver the service that you’re doing doesn’t mean your value was brought down, and there’s no way for each client to duplicate the kind of overhead and investment you’ve had in your business in order to deliver the service that they’re getting from your firm. So it’s important to start looking at what is the value of what you’re delivering beyond the technology, but also the technology itself – but not looking at time as your inventory.

Peter: [00:35:17] Right.

Amy: [00:35:18] Because when we start looking at time as your inventory, that limits your opportunity and you’re actually cutting yourself short, in the end.

Peter: [00:35:28] That was my biggest shock to the profession – I got into it a little bit later. I entered when I was 30 years old. What do you mean I have to keep time? I think I thought this was– I didn’t know we have a time clock, and then billing on 15 minute increments, and then billing a customer for a phone call was just… people looked at me like I was crazy, while I’m looking at them like I don’t get it. But over time– and one firm showed a story with me that client called him up asking a specific question. Okay thanks. Next they called back asked another specific question, hung up, for three days. And finally somebody, whoever he was talking with said wait a minute, this is weird. Something’s going on. Let me pick up the phone and call the client, and the first question was are you going to bill me for this time?No I’m not. Tell me what’s going on. And that was the point that the client opened up and said the issue at hand, and how can you help me?

Amy: [00:36:29] Mhm. And I think you know, exactly what you said, when we bill for every minute, it prevents the conversation from happening – And sometimes we’re just looking at the symptoms of a problem, but not the actual problem; the root of it. And so we take what’s face value just to get the work done, rather than really trying to uncover that. And that’s something I talk in the book, as well, about is the difference between tangible and intangible. And that’s something that really defines an advisor. So we can look at numbers and explain a number away, but when we actually start meeting – like if you’re dealing with a retailer, walking into that store and understanding how it operates. Talking to the retail manager, talking to some of the customers, and really seeing the intangible pieces of the financials and the operations – then you can give real advice back. Like well, what I actually saw was this, and that looks like it’s creating more cost field because they’re duplicating their job three different ways.

Peter: [00:37:36] Right. And I had an article published about – I think it was not two years ago in accounting today – that the title was it’s time to get out from behind our desk.

Amy: [00:37:45] Mhm

Peter: [00:37:46] And basically talking about this issue. You can’t be– you may be the CFO– hopefully it’s the CFO, not the CFnO of the company, but if you’re managing the business from your desk, you’re missing out on a whole lot. You’ve got to get out there and understand all silos of the business in order to be that cherished business advisor to the organization.

Amy: [00:38:10] Yes absolutely. And that’s really where the come content because you just said you cared. It’s like going to that horse farm. And there is probably a lot she uncovered there from a financial perspective that could help that client really improve as well, just by being there.

Peter: [00:38:28] Yeah but she’s not… She’s no longer there.

Amy: [00:38:32] Yeah exactly. All of that was lost.

Peter: [00:38:34] All that was lost in a very short sentence. But it goes it goes to the culture. It goes to the attitude, and really that is a lot of being that cherished advisor, that positive mental attitude that that that– you know sometimes we’re just afraid to ask questions, but we need to ask questions in order to understand. But I think the perfectionist of a CPAs – and we don’t like to be wrong – That’s the way we were brought up, especially back and you know as we transition, that I have to say I have to find the answer. I’m not the expert, but no, I said unless you know what a 100 percent verbatim. If there’s any question in your mind, get back to them in 24 hours.

Amy: [00:39:19] Right. Well and another you know place that, with talking to staff or management in an accounting firm that I think happens to, is [00:39:29] a culture isn’t creative of innovate– [00:39:31] culture isn’t created for innovation. And so too many times, staffs are set up where they are asked to go figure something out, and because they came back with the wrong answer or failed in coming back the way that they were expected,sSometimes that can be used against them for one year, two years, three years. They can’t break from that one mistake that really was a learning opportunity for them. And so, when we think about the culture in an accounting practice, we have to make sure there’s a culture open for people to have those mistakes. Because that is the only way you learn. And if you’re telling everybody and micro-managing them on the answer, they’re never going to learn as well. You need them to get through that process and go Well this is how I got that answer or so that you understand how they think. And go well next time you go through this, these are the two things you should change in your decision making process.

Peter: [00:40:28] Right. In improv, we say bad ideas are just bridges to good ideas and no ideas lead to nothing. And we also say that, when you want ideas, bring a brick – don’t bring the cathedral. But you have to put– you know innovation ideas, because we’re very conservative profession, when we ask for ideas, if this is safe zone here, we ask for ideas, they are not going too far off of save. I have no bandwidth to create. But if I if I can get them to believe in crazy, something completely almost inappropriate at times [00:41:08] to kind of– [00:41:08] I’ve got more bandwidth so I can come here in the middle. And I’ve shared this before on the podcast: I was doing a creativity session with a Fortune 500 company in Maryland. They brought their US emerging leaders and the Latin America emerging leaders in for a conference, and I got to do a half day creatively session with them. One of the questions on the table was how we’re going to increase profitability in the firm. Raise revenues, cut costs. Okay got it. Go deeper go deeper. And this one gentleman from Latin America goes ‘I’ll you what we’re going to do my friends. This is how we go to increase profitability in our company. We’re going to kill all the competition’s salespeople.’

Amy: [00:41:49] [pause] hahaha

Peter: [00:41:49] Everybody laughed. I panicked for a brief moment.

Amy: [00:41:53] Hahaha

Peter: [00:41:53] I wasn’t expecting that. But I said you know if you believe with bad ideas are bridges to good ideas. So I just took a deep breath and I said I’ll tell you what. Let’s take murder off the table. In short story, I said instead of killing them, why don’t we identify them and poach them? Let’s try to steal them. Let’s offer them more money, let’s offer them a bonus. Maybe we can attract them that way to help, and stay out of jail at the same time.

Amy: [00:42:17] Yeah. Hahaha.

Peter: [00:42:18] I don’t know this answer, but would we have gotten there without that guy taking me, literally, and coming up with a really bad idea.

Amy: [00:42:27] Right.

Peter: [00:42:27] But we were able to turn it into something usable.

Amy: [00:42:31] Right.

Peter: [00:42:31] So when we when people– when an accountant is given ideas, [00:42:34] and [long pause] [00:42:35] I said if you ever do a creativity session, the managing partner and the partner who’s leading it – if they’re leading, they’re the ones needs need throughout the craziest, stupidest idea that they have, which will loosen up the rest of the culture. If not, it’s going to just fall flat on its face and go back to basically what you describe.

Amy: [00:42:53] Yeah I agree. Absolutely.

Peter: [00:42:55] Kill our competition’s sales people. Woo!

Amy: [00:42:57] Yeah that’s probably not the…

Peter: [00:42:59] So as we wrap up, you’ve mentioned a lot about you know helping small businesses. But you failed to inform us you have [00:43:08] two small– You [00:43:09] have two businesses. You’re speaking business, and– I don’t know when you find free time. But would you tell my audience what else you do?

Amy: [00:43:17] I own a yoga studio.

Peter: [00:43:20] She owns a yoga studio. In?

Amy: [00:43:24] In Cincinnati.

Peter: [00:43:25] It’s in Cincinnati..

Amy: [00:43:26] Yeah yeah. We have over 50 classes a week, and do non-heated and heated classes. We have virtual yoga and retail. It’s my creative outlet. [laughs]

Peter: [00:43:41] Ok so. Can I ask you to give a name?

Amy: [00:43:47] Oh Yeah. Drishtiq Yoga.

Peter: [00:43:47] Say that again? Say that again?

Amy: [00:43:50] Drishtiq. So I made up the word. Drishti is your gaze in yoga, so staying focused beyond yourself. And it helps you stay in balance. So I added the q to the end so it’s never ending.

Peter: [00:44:13] Nice! And you had a group of what about a little over a hundred people at the conference — no, it was Michelle who started it.

Amy: [00:44:23] With the yoga. Yeah. Haha.

Peter: [00:44:23] With everyone balnace… she said everybody kind of squat, and I heard knees pop all over that room. And I assume you have a website.

Amy: [00:44:33] Yeah. My Website is amyvetter.com. I also have drishtiqyoga.com if you’re interested in virtual yoga and not in Cincinnati. But yeah. So I do sessions around the country that help accounting practices do this. I also have a second book that really integrates my Yoga and business life called Business, Balance, and Bliss, and I do a topic about how to create work life harmony so that you can be more real at work, set these boundaries, take advantage of the technology put in place so you don’t always have to get more clients. It can be that you find your creative outlet, your hobby, so that you feel more complete, as a person, and you are better with the people at work and at home.

Peter: [00:45:21] Cool. Before I let you go, because those who are going to be watching us on Youtube are going to see, in the left corner of the screen, a music stand, and it looks like it might be a guitar back there.

Amy: [00:45:34] Yeah. I play bass guitar so.

Peter: [00:45:36] Oh that’s what you do. You want to play something for the audience?

Amy: [00:45:43] Oh no no. Hahaha.

Peter: [00:45:43] I don’t know how you find time but that that is awesome.

Amy: [00:45:47] That’s all in my work life harmony book!

Peter: [00:45:50] Well I own three guitars and I don’t play the guitar. So that’s–

Amy: [00:45:53] Well that’s funny. You can have an appreciation and love for music.

Peter: [00:45:58] Yes. I use the guitar, if I’m stuck in my head and I need something creative, I just start strumming. I’m going to teach myself one day how to play.

Amy: [00:46:07] YouTube is your friend.

Peter: [00:46:09] It is. Very much so.

Amy: [00:46:12] Hahah.

Peter: [00:46:12] So Amy, I just want to thank you very much for taking time and sharing this information with my audience. I will have the Web sites for both the businesses in the show notes. I look forward to our paths crossing again very soon, and I wish you all the best luck in the world.

Amy: [00:46:30] Thank you very much for having me on. It’s been fun.

Peter: [00:46:32] It’s been a lot of fun. I would like to thank Amy again for sharing with us her thoughts on how CPA firms can become more future ready. I highly recommend you reading her book and applying her advice to your firm. There there’s a link in the episode show notes to her book on Amazon.com. In episode 2, my guests are Michelle Sopp with the Georgia society of CPAs, Jennifer Oleska with the Georgia society of CPAs, and Brett Johnson and Chris Fleck of the AICPA, and we discussed the major takeaways from the 2018 national CPE educators conference. Thank you again for listening, and begin the process of changing your mindset and getting out of your comfort zone. Because when you do, that’s where the magic happens. Remember this is a process that requires daily application, with a big dose of applied improvisation. Have a great day.





Watch Amy’s TEDxTalk: “Disconnect to Connect: The path to work-life harmony”

Ep. 99 – A Very Special Announcement About the Next 100 Episodes

Today I’m celebrating my 100th episode (because I technically started this show with episode 0) – and I have a special announcement for all of you.


First, I’d like to thank all of the guests who have given their time and shared their knowledge with my audience – without you, we never would have reached this milestone. I’d also like to thank my audience, especially those of you who listen every week. I hope you’ve been able to gather some nuggets of wisdom and applied them in your everyday life!


Now for my special announcement: I’m re-branding the podcast and changing its name to “Change Your Mindset | with Peter Margaritis, CPA, CGMA, AKA The Accidental Accountant.” I will also be changing from a weekly schedule to a bi-weekly schedule for a period of time.


Note: If you are already subscribed to the podcast, you do not have to change anything. The title of the show will simply be updated in your podcast app of choice.


Why the change? I want to serve the accounting profession better than I have over the last 100 episodes.


I firmly believe that, in the next five to 10 years, the accounting profession will move from a compliance role to more of an advisory role – we have to quit thinking about the way it used to be and listen to the younger generation on where they feel it’s going to go.


The essential skills CPAs will need by the year 2025 are communication skills; leadership skills; critical thinking & problem solving skills; anticipating & serving evolving needs; and synthesizing intelligence through insight, integration, and collaboration: otherwise known as interpersonal skills, people skills, or soft skills.


Building strong communication skills does begin with embracing the principles of improvisation – or, more accurately: Building strong communication skills begins with embracing the APPLIED principles of improvisation.


And applied improvisation is not about making jokes, becoming a comedian, or just being silly, which is what a lot of people think when they hear the term improv. Instead, applied improvisation takes these techniques and applies them to business, relationships, and life.


The style, dialogue, and conversation about applied improvisation will not change – that is the essence of the message in Changing Your Mindset because applied improvisation builds relationships, develops people, strengthens corporate cultures, and increases an organization’s bottom line – but with an increased focus on why (and how) we need to change our mindsets, if we want our businesses to survive the next 10 years.


And while our conversations will focus on the accounting profession, what we will talk about applies to every profession and the challenges we all face on a daily basis.


So even if you are not a CPA, this may be the platform that will allow you to move away from group think by hearing the thoughts and ideas of people who are different form you, but striving for the same result: happiness and prosperity.


Download this Episode MP3.



Ep. 98 – Scott Palmer | Improvisation in the Workplace: Disarming Angry Customers & Remembering How to Communicate

Scott Palmer is the Executive Director of Adult Education at Butler Technology and Career Development Schools, and he joins me to discuss how the principles of improvisation have helped him create a collaborative environment with his team, his students, and the institution.


Scott has been in adult education for more than two decades, and he loves this work because he is able to help others realize lifelong goals, whether that be pursuing a degree, completing a certificate, or getting a job.


Scott has always utilized improvisation, subconsciously, but over the last couple years, he’s been making a point of using the principles of improvisation to consciously improve his communication.


Improv & Angry Customers


Scott gets ample opportunity to practice because, like many of us, he deals with angry customers on a regular basis. The practice seems to be paying off, because he’s learned a lot!


When a customer comes in angry, they usually just want to be heard. However, a natural reaction to an angry person is getting defensive – but that’s the worst thing you can do with an angry customer.


Scott’s goal is to disarm the angry person, without them knowing they’re being disarmed. He does this by listening, expressing empathy, and asking questions that give the other person an opportunity to be part of a solution (e.g. What would you like to see happen?). This conversation is about them, not you.


“Being grateful, the simple act of saying thank you and saying please, and showing respect through communication goes a very long way, especially when working with students and customers.”


You don’t have to like them to effectively communicate or improvise with someone – but you do have to respect them.


“People have forgotten how to communicate. The technology has allowed us to become lazy and insincere in the ways that we communicate, and I would suggest that we, as people, are suffering as a result.”


Download this Episode MP3.



  • Check out Butler Technology and Career Development Schools at ButlerTech.org

Improv Is No Joke is produced by Podcast Masters

Ep. 97 – Kay Frances | Lighten Up & Stress Less with America’s Funniest Stressbuster

Kay Frances is a motivational humorist who has shared her message to “lighten up, stress less and take care of ourselves” for over 30 years. Kay is “America’s Funniest Stressbuster” – and she even wrote the book on stress, The Funny Thing about Stress; A Seriously Humorous Guide to a Happier Life!


When it comes to humor, Kay is the real deal. She performed as a professional stand up comedian for many years and appeared on a number of national television and radio programs. Plus, as you’ll hear in this episode, I was laughing throughout the entire interview!


But Kay isn’t just funny; she uses humor to put her examples in a context that is relatable to everyone in the audience. However, when she is discussing ways to reduce stress, she is very serious and to the point – and this ability to make you laugh, while remaining serious about the message, is what elevates her to the level of a great humorist (and stressbuster).


For the accountants out there, this is an especially stressful time of year – but Kay has some advice:


  • Knowing how stressful this period of the year will be, it is even more important to let go of stress about things that don’t matter.
  • Self-care is more important than ever. We all know that we operate better on a good night’s sleep than three hours of sleep. Eating a bag of Cheetos may sound better than a salad, but you will feel and function better after the salad.
  • You have to make time for relaxing (without compromising your self-care). Even though it may not feel like you have time to wind down, making time for it will actually give you more energy throughout the rest of your day.
  • Learn to say NO. You’ll have more time in the other 8 months of the year, but you have to protect your time during the busy season; you have to make yourself a priority.
  • Be optimistic! The American Heart Association found that, all things being equal, people with an optimistic spirit have better heart health, a stronger immune system, and a decreased risk of stroke.


Download this Episode MP3.