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Coffee With a Professional in Accounting: Taryn Abate

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An interview with Taryn Abate, Director, Audit & Assurance — Research, Guidance and Support, Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada

I recently met with Taryn Abate, Director, Audit & Assurance – Research, Guidance and Support at Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (CPA Canada) at the Digital CPA conference.

This conference is hosted by CPA.com and the AICPA and attracts leaders within the industry who truly embrace the digital CPA era, so no doubt it made sense for MindBridge to attend.

Taryn is a thought leader in the CPA space and after completing her CA designation in 2009, has held key positions in firms like MNP LLP, the Institute of Chartered Professional Accountants (CPA) of Ontario, and now with CPA Canada.

I chatted with Taryn about her thoughts on the massive disruption occurring in the audit profession and how innovative technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and blockchain can be leveraged for auditors to graduate towards more of an advisory role. Below is an excerpt from our discussion.

Solon: What did you like the most out of the last two days, out of all the conversations, vendors’ booths, and the work groups? If you had to come back home and say, “I spent two days with hundreds of CPAs and here’s how I feel about the profession,” what would you say?

Taryn: The keynotes from both days were a fantastic frame of reference for the conference and the profession.

Mark Randolph, Netflix co-founder, on the first day talked about innovation; the importance of having an idea, having a tolerance for risk, and having confidence and optimism in everything you do.

Barry Melancon, CEO of the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), started off the second day by discussing the state of the profession. Technology’s impact on the auditing profession was a trend/theme throughout the conference, focusing on blockchain, AI and data analytics. It was pretty much in every session that I went to. I heard discussions on how practitioners are going to start to use these technologies. It was amazing to hear everyone embrace the idea that these technologies are here, and the fact that it is going to change how we audit and what we are auditing.

Solon: Of the discussions you had with people in the room, do you agree that everyone is more or less ready for innovation? Do you think they know where to start?

Taryn: We have a tiny segment of the bigger population here. These practitioners have accepted the idea of digital transformation and understand the benefits of the new technologies. But, not everyone in the business community has reached this stage. We’re on a journey here, and that’s why CPA Canada has identified audit as a strategic priority. We are working with stakeholders around the globe to understand current challenges facing the profession, identify future needs and explore how the profession must evolve to meet these challenges and opportunities.

CPA Canada and other organizations such as the AICPA are preparing guidance to help members and other stakeholders adapt to an ever-evolving operating environment. Stay tuned for upcoming publications on blockchain and AI and the implication of these technologies on the audit and assurance profession.

Solon: I have to say I’m very impressed with CPA Canada.

Taryn: Me too, and thank you. We are committed to helping our profession and members navigate this changing environment. Our goal is to ensure that our profession and members are well-positioned to take advantage of opportunities associated the evolving technologies. Stay tuned.

Solon: CPA Canada has a TV ad — the one about driving change with the CD player guy, and I loved it. I also saw a poster at the Billy Bishop Airport that asks, “Will machine learning replace human know-how?” and then says, “Ask a CPA.” I have to ask you about that one. Who had that idea?

Taryn: That’s from our current national brand campaign that asks tough and timely questions about the changing business landscape. I think it’s great. It catches your interest and makes you think about innovation and the future and what organizations need to do to stay relevant.

Canadian CPAs have a solid foundation of technical and enabling skills, and we see those skills becoming even more relevant in a world that is increasingly volatile, uncertain and complex.

That’s why preparing the profession for the future is a key focus at CPA Canada. It’s about understanding emerging technologies and utilizing the data, identifying trends and bringing insight into strategy development to help organizations achieve long-term success. As the pace of innovation increases and new technologies continue to spread, the disruption of business models and processes will require rapid adaptation.

Solon: That’s for sure. I was just flying back from a conference reassuring people that AI is not going to take their job away, and then I see that ad…

Taryn: You see an article one day that says AI or blockchain is going to replace audit, completely replace 88% of jobs. Then last week, Forbes produces an article saying in four out of five companies, AI will create new jobs.

We need to reinforce that with technology comes change but that can include opportunities. This is again why helping our members and other stakeholders prepare for the future is so important to CPA Canada.

Solon: I think there are a lot more job opportunities. That is my company MindBridge’s view and vision too. We believe there is going to be a surge of demand that will be for more digitalized solutions that will be easier to access. It is also going to generate new capacities within the marketplace. That’s my personal view too, so I’m glad that you believe in it as well…but is it fair to say that there is fear anytime there’s innovation?

Taryn: Yes. People were scared when computers came in, but they made us smarter and more efficient. And, while computers may have led to the elimination of some jobs, they are responsible for the creation of many others.

Solon: People here at DCPA ‘17 are embracing innovation, but they’re not sure exactly where to start all the time. They rely a lot on the product community here and their peers to guide them. You live and breathe the profession, go to many industry events and know the mandate of CPA Canada. How would you explain the benefits of AI and blockchain technologies to a senior partner that is in the grind, has a medium-sized practice and doesn’t have time to come to these conferences? What advice would you give him or her to understand what the profession is going through right now and how it may change?

Taryn: My advice to all would be to prepare yourself for challenges posed by globalization and technology. Stay abreast of changes in the business world, get familiar with new technologies and proactively assess the implications.

For small to medium-sized practices that may be resource-constrained, I encourage them to check out our available resources and be aware that more are on the way.

The most important call to action is to start now when it comes to assessing what the operating landscape is going to look like for your organization. Identify the challenges and meet them head-on.

Solon: To your point, some of the more prominent partners who are engaging with our vision are moving pretty fast on that.

Taryn: In general terms, it’s important to be aware of everything that’s happening out there. Be honest to yourself and don’t pretend that change hasn’t arrived. More specifically, as an auditor, you look at the problems in a company and help your clients address any pain points, and for that, you must use the appropriate tools. If you don’t have the proper tools, guidance or information, help is available. Taking action today can pave the way for long-term success.

Solon: I recently met a very cool CPA, Natalie Quan, CFO of the CalCPA Association, who was also the controller for the San Francisco Ballet. Who is the coolest CPA you have ever met?

Taryn: We meet a lot of interesting and inspiring people through the work we do at CPA Canada. We work with subject matter experts in Canada and globally, to help the profession and for that reason, I couldn’t pick just one.

Solon: What is the most exciting story you heard?

Taryn: Technology today moves rapidly, resulting in many exciting stories.

Of particular note, I would reference Alan Wunsche, a blockchain expert CPA Canada works with, and he launched Token Funder on November 1st with the Ontario Securities Commission; the province’s first regulated token offering.

My job is a blessing because I get to work with many respected thought leaders and hear how they are moving forward in today’s global economy. It’s amazing to see the innovation that is happening all around us.

Solon: You seem to be doing a great job, and you seem to enjoy it so, congratulations.

Taryn: I certainly do!

Solon: Thank you for your time. The readers are going to enjoy this blog post.

Originally posted on Solon Angel’s Linkedin and can be accessed here.