Hitendra Patil Redefines the Role of CPA in a Changing Business Landscape The next time someone asks what you do, Hitendra Patil has a better suggestion for you than, “I’m an accountant.”
The next time someone asks what you do, Hitendra Patil has a
better suggestion for you than, “I’m an accountant.”
Threats to the accounting profession are coming from every direction:
Robots. Artificial intelligence. Blockchain. Overseas outsourcing.
Encroachment from other professionals.
Yet Hitendra Patil believes there’s never been a better, more exciting
time to be a CPA.
That is, as long as you are a certain kind of CPA. He calls this new and
improved professional an Accountaneur.
An Accountaneur is an entrepreneur who happens to be an accountant.
Accountaneurs spot and pursue opportunity, and think like a business
owner, not like a clerk. They see possibility where others see problems.
They’re not only the most trusted advisor to their business owner
clients, but also the most relevant. They work less hours but
add more value.
Don’t worry, says Patil. Nobody is born with these skills. But any
accountant can learn them. Here are five tips on how to get started.
1. Another word for risk is opportunity
“Risks exist for all business owners,” notes Patil. “Entrepreneurs act
despite the risk. In their minds, there is a different word for risk; it’s
called opportunity. Over a period of time, successful entrepreneurs find
a way, a method, or a system to manage and overcome risks.”
Identifying and quantifying risk is in most CPAs’ wheelhouse. They do it
very well for their clients and they do it fairly well for themselves, too.
Patil recommends committing some risk capital to invest in
experimenting, trying out new things.
“It can be as small as 5% of earnings,” he suggests. “And once you
quantify your risk capital, you can see it in totality. Otherwise it is like
fog: You get scared because you can’t see very far.
“When you’re doing compliance-focused work day in and day out, your
mind does not get conditioned to think in risk-averse ways. And habits
can be hard to break, but that’s the key. Leverage the strength of
If you put yourself in the habit of taking calculated risk for your own
practice growth, argues Patil, you will soon be able to handle and
perceive risk as well.
“It is a process,” he says. “It is not an overnight makeover. One fine
day it will seem like an overnight makeover, once you get into those
2. Wean your practice of repetitive tasks
CPAs are trained and conditioned to learn new things. However, the
knowledge they acquire tends to be technical in nature – comprised of
rules and codes and sections and subsections. Patil warns that rote and
repetitive activities are at risk in today’s fast-changing business world.
As an example, he points out that it took 20 weeks for a team of 10
senior auditors to process an audit assignment to find five unusual
transactions. IBM’s Watson found them in four minutes.
“Machine learning, artificial intelligence, and immense processing
power are advantages that a human being simply cannot match,” he
That’s the risk. The opportunity is to liberate your time and life by
leveraging this same technology to your benefit. It is like hiring
thousands of people for the tiniest fraction of the historical cost of
hiring, and benefitting from that massive productivity and accuracy.
“When you relate the intelligence from technology to the business
decisions your clients have taken or not taken, you will become their
highly paid business strategist or the growth director,” states Patil.
“The future success of accountants will come from these contextual
3. Look for ways to be helpful
“Why Accountants Could Be the Happiest People on Earth” is a chapter
title in Patil’s latest book. His work is based on research and
organizational psychology, which implies that people are more
innovative and successful when they are motivated by a desire to help
“For accountants it is not very difficult to find ways to help,” says Patil.
“For example, just jotting down the questions clients and prospects ask
you for two or three months will reveal common issues, challenges,
and problems that people need help with. When you start solving these
problems, you’re on your way to becoming indispensible in a way that
doing write-ups never will.”
Problems can also be identified through accounting information, notes
“One of my clients was doing the accounting for a large restaurant, and
the restaurant was having profitability issues,” he explains. “This CPA
was a good accountant, but she did not have restaurant experience.
Simply by looking at the accounting data, she figured out that there
was a problem with liquor sales. By reviewing sales, pricing and liquor
consumption, she speculated that an employee was stealing.
“The owner did not want to believe it because his key people were
trusted lieutenants. But when word spread that the accountant had
conducted an audit and suspected theft, two employees suddenly quit,
never to be seen again. And profitability quickly resumed.
“This is how to add value and go beyond simply producing a balance
sheet every month.”
4. Beware multiple cooks in the kitchen
As director of practice development at Accountants World, Patil has
spent over 10 years working alongside accounting and tax
professionals. He’s concluded that the partnership business model
favored by most multi-partner firms contains a serious flaw, explained
by the following story.
“Our team went to dinner at a nice restaurant, and different members
of the team had radically different experiences. Most of the group had
a wonderful time and really enjoyed the restaurant. However, a couple
of people complained it was a horrible meal.
“A discussion with the manager revealed a surprising reason for the
disparity. The restaurant had two chefs. The people who loved the
restaurant had dishes prepared by Chef A. Those who were
disappointed had dishes prepared by Chef B. In this way the restaurant
produced two radically different customer ‘experiences’.
Patil uses this story to illustrate how many CPA firms operate, with
each partner owning his or her own book of business. In this model the
only things partners have in common are the shared infrastructure, the
brand, and maybe shared technology. This can lead to conflicts,
resource competition, and inefficiencies due to conflicting priorities.
And more importantly, it creates an inconsistent experience for clients,
similar to the restaurant diners.
What Patil recommends instead is a firm-oriented approach. He
encourages CPA firms to create a cohesive consistency – with shared
values, shared goals, shared culture . . . and a consistent delivery
among all partners.
5. Technology will not replace accountants
As someone who holds advanced degrees in business and science, and
has spent decades working in technology-driven businesses,
Patil has an insider’s perspective.
“Technology is not a trend that will fade away,” he says. “But despite
what Mark Cuban says or what you read in the press, technology will
not replace accountants.
“What you personally do as accounting work will definitely change. So
you want to anticipate those changes and benefit from them. The
importance of soft skills, contextual abilities, behavioral economics will
gain greater significance in the coming years.”
Where to begin? Patil advises asking, ‘What work do I do that has
the most positive impact on the lives of my clients?’ It is the human
experiences that warrant our attention. The goal is to amplify those
activities and efforts to amplify the human impact of your services.
That’s the new debits and credits for Accountaneurs.
Patil summarizes his simple formula.
“Adjust your mindset to think like an Accountaneur, not an accountant.
“Focus on the work that produces the most positive impact on your clients.
“Learn as much as you can about human behavior. Technology is going
to level the playing field more and more each day. It is your ability to
connect at the human level and communicate well that will
“And finally, time is finite for everyone. We don’t know how much is left
in our lives. Your time is very precious. Deliver maximum impact in the
least possible time. You want to do only those things that a lesser-
educated, lesser-experienced person or technology cannot do. Do
justice to your experience, expertise, knowledge, and do only the thing
or things that employ all these faculties.”