What Does the Future of Accounting Hold? Consulting on New Complexities, Offering Diverse Talent

Any major event with substantial economic impact and unprecedented shifts in market expectations naturally accelerates change—but a “major event” may be an understatement when history looks back on the global COVID-19 pandemic that has gripped the U.S. and the world since early 2020. Not only is the pandemic causing serious health issues and dramatic loss of life, but its economic impact has been devastating for so many.

However, despite lockdowns, business closures, job losses, supply shortages and other events that directly impacted companies of every shape and size, there also came opportunities that are almost certain to remain a lasting part of the way things operate as we start to recover from the pandemic. Remote interaction (RI), artificial intelligence (AI), big data, a dramatic increase in e-commerce, a rise in entrepreneurial intensity, the re-analyzation of workplace culture—and even drones delivering to the front door—are just some of the things that are likely to be permanent in the new normal.

To get a greater picture of what to really expect, we asked the experts—members of the faculty from each of the nine undergraduate business majors at the Whitman School— to share their insights into the future of the post-pandemic business landscape.

New opportunities stemming from the pandemic will surely bring unprecedented growth and competition to the accounting field, according to Professor of Accounting Practice Kofi Appiah Okyere, who is also the director of graduate accounting programs. Many companies have struggled with a loss of productivity as employees got the hang of working remotely. This is not unique to accounting firms, of course, but has given them the opportunity to more deeply understand the processes of working with clients and within teams. This, according to Appiah Okyere, should result in major advances in efficiency, competition and profitability in the accounting profession, fueled by tools like AI and other technologies. While CPAs have always been trusted partners in business strategy, the post-COVID-19 world will present more opportunities for firms to act in consultant roles for clients. They can advise on navigating new complexities surrounding human resources, process automation, supply chain management and operational digitization, according to Appiah Okyere.

Adding to this expansion in consulting services is a greater demand for diverse talent to fill these new roles in everything from IT to legal. To do so, accounting firms will likely look to flex workers to fulfill many client needs.

While the history books are not quite yet closed on the pandemic, there are many glimmers of hope and the certainty of change on the horizon. Those who intend to succeed in a post-COVID-19 business landscape will need to plan, adapt, accept and learn from both the painful and the productive lessons they’ve witnessed—all while being open to innovation, entrepreneurial intensity, data-driven decisions and the resiliency needed to continue to thrive.