Advisors of the future: A fireside chat with BDO Canada

Earlier this year, we announced a three-year global agreement with BDO to become its preferred accounting solution for its business, services and outsourcing clients in the small-to-medium business space. 

The agreement has given both of us the opportunity to collaborate more regularly within the Canadian accounting community. This includes speaking with future accountants currently preparing for their careers.

I recently joined BDO Canada Managing Partner, Daphna Smuckler, for a virtual fireside chat at the University of Toronto and their Master of Management and Professional Accounting (MMPA) students. Daphna discussed the evolving nature of the accounting industry in Canada and how students can set themselves up for success in the future. Below are some of the highlights from our chat.

Daphna, you’ve been in the accounting industry for a long time. What are some of the major shifts you’ve seen in your career here in Canada and how has the role of the accountant changed? 

I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and I remember we used to carry these huge audit bags full of paper! We were the stereotypical accountants with paper and calculators and even computers were slow so we had to be organized and methodical. Today, obviously technology has come a long way, and we have software programs like Xero. This technology allows us to move away from just being those number crunchers and enables us to take on more challenging and more advisory type of work. 

Today, clients are looking for something more personalized and customized to their business with a big focus on data. That’s been a significant shift in the industry in how we can leverage technology and data in ways to help our clients better understand their business. When you think of an accounting firm today, it’s no longer just an accounting firm- it’s a full service firm powered by technology and data. We’re able to shift how we work with our clients and it’s opened up a lot of opportunities for us. It’s true advisory and talking with clients to consult on every aspect of their business from finance to IT to HR… we have moved  away from the traditional accountant and moved towards being advisors of the future.

One of the things that you and I have discussed in the past is the importance of culture within an organization. What does culture mean to you, and what do you think the firm of the future looks like when it comes to culture?

When it comes to culture, we often think of core values and behaviour that every organization has and lives by. For me, what’s important is not just words, but how you feel within the organization and the actions people take. We’re very purposeful at BDO Canada around programs and making sure we’re teaching and living by our values, and that starts at the top with our CEO. 

The firm of the future is one that’s diverse and inclusive. We’re going to live by that and not just talk about it as part of the culture – it’ll be a natural part of the firm. Culture of innovation and transformation will be another big aspect. A firm that empowers innovation and transformation as well as fosters curiosity and creativity is where we are now and will continue more so into the future.

BDO has a vision for the advisor of the future. What does that look like and how can students best prepare for that future?

It’s no longer just about having technical skills and knowledge that you learn in school. The advisor of the future will also have analytical skills to be able to understand and interpret the data, and interpersonal skills to build relationships. That’s something we’re changing internally as well with our learning and development programs to be able to help students and our employees get to that level and get there faster. 

As you think about that advisor of the future, what’s the role of technology 10 years from now?

Ten years will fly by and be here before you know it, and technology will continue to evolve. Software like Xero is going to continue to evolve and help us get better. I believe we’ll also see a lot of bots helping us do work in the background. I think a lot of people are concerned bots will take over all their work but that’s not true. Rather, bots will make our work a lot more interesting and challenging, as well as allow us to be true advisors to our clients. We’re going to need just as many advisors , if not more.

The accounting industry has traditionally been a male-dominated field. How has being a woman impacted your career, if at all, and what advice do you have for women who are just starting out?

My advice for everyone, not just women, is to be your authentic self, lean in and don’t be shy. If you have an idea, speak up and just be you. When I first started I thought I had to be one of the boys but quickly realized the value I was bringing to the table was being me. I was the only female leader in my office but we’ve made a lot of progress. Today, across the country, we have approximately 30% female partners and our board is 50% female.  

Lastly, as you think about the firm and advisor of the future, what piece of advice would you give to students as they start out on their own journey?

I would say two things – ask lots of questions and find a mentor. As you’re growing in your career it’s important to bring someone along the ride to help guide you. I had a mentor from the day I started and it made a huge difference for me. It can be a colleague, a friend, a parent or someone you trust and can talk to.

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