Meet Danetha Doe, a millennial thought leader within the profession. She talks to Kristin Hanes about the need for an entrepreneurial mindset in the digital age, and why she set herself to become a virtual mentor for young accountants
Photography by Jeff Singer
If you could use one word to describe Danetha Doe, it just might be this: passion. Doe, who lives in San Francisco, California, is full of energy and ideas, especially when it comes to finance, branding, and economic empowerment for women. Named a “Top 40 under 40 accounting professional” by United States-based magazine CPA Practice Advisor and a “next-generation accountant” by accounting software company QuickBooks, Doe is taking the profession by storm, and says now more than ever is the time for young accountants to buddy up with technology.
Doe, 30, didn’t start out where she is now, as a mentor, international speaker and consultant who’s worked with big name brands like Google and Audi. She went to university for degrees in economics, mass communications and Spanish from DePauw University in Indiana. One of her first jobs out of university was working as an accountant for a healthcare company, where she quickly learned sitting behind a desk, eight hours per day, wasn’t right for her.
When she moved to California in 2012, Doe founded her company, Danetha Doe Consulting, where she teaches bookkeeping, cash flow management, budgeting and business development to entrepreneurs, and through her work, she found her true passion – helping others succeed.
Now, she’s turned that laser focus on young accounting professionals. In August 2017, she started the Future of Accounting podcast, where she hopes to encourage the new generation of accountants to learn all they can about rising technology.
Setting new goals
Some might think of rising technology in the accounting profession as something to be feared, but Doe says instead, young CPAs should grab technology by the horns and run with it.
“Technology is shifting with every industry, and accounting is just the latest that will be truly disrupted,” she says. “Now, automation is taking over many of the tasks accountants used to do. Some might be afraid this means jobs will be cut, but really, accountants are being asked to do higher-level strategic work. So, instead of doing data entry and other mundane tasks, you’re being asked to contribute to the chief financial officer’s work and help with the overall strategy of the company.”
She says that means young accountants need to brush up on skills besides just crunching numbers so they can offer more to their employer. “The number one thing is not to have a fear mindset, but a growth mindset,” she says. “Figure out how much time technology is going to save you, then become more efficient at your job and look for ways to add value. This could be as simple as asking questions and figuring out your manager’s goals. Usually those goals are related to revenue or brand awareness. Then think about ways you can help your manager reach those goals.”
She says her background in mass communications proved to be vital, as it helped her think outside the box when it comes to branding and public relations, which she later applied to her own business. “Be sure to expand your skill set,” she says. “You don’t always have to take a class, but read about your industry. What are the trends? For example, if you’re an accountant who advises creative agencies, you should know that cash flow and project management are their biggest challenges. One of the trends of creative agencies is to provide data analytics insights to communicate effectiveness of their creative services. Providing these insights can be an additional revenue stream without a huge increase in overload. As their advisor, you can introduce the agency to this opportunity and help them build out the systems in order to support the service.”
Challenges young accountants face
Doe says in her career, changing her mindset was one of her biggest challenges. “One of my main challenges was getting over the fact that I was really young when I started my business and career. Sometimes I felt I wasn’t being taken seriously,” she says. “I got over that by reminding myself that no one starts their career knowing everything and that my perspective actually added to the conversation. The millennial generation is now the largest in the workforce [in the United States], and adding my perspective helped my clients and peers better understand this population.”
She thinks young accounting students entering the workforce will have their own set of challenges that come from moving from university life into a real job. “In the accounting world you’re expected to be correct 100 percent of the time. If you make a mistake that could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars,” she says. “A huge challenge is to recognize that it’s okay to ask questions, you aren’t being seen as ignorant. Asking more questions shows you are engaged.”
“One of my main challenges was getting over the fact that I was really young when I started my business and career. Sometimes I felt I wasn’t being taken seriously.”
She believes people just starting out their careers in accounting should also learn to be more flexible in their thinking, to go beyond the linear type of thought that’s hammered into young minds in school. “There’s an increased need for emotional intelligence and being able to connect with your clients or manager at a personal level,” she says. “You’re not just behind a computer all the time. It can be hard for some people to incorporate that into the work space.”
In the United States, as with other countries, accountants will have to deal with robotics process automation (RPA) and the way that technology is shifting the way taxes and audits are handled. A lot of these functions are increasingly handled by a computer rather than a person.
According to an EY report titled Robotic Process Automation in the Finance Function of the Future, the job functions immediately impacted by these changes are operational accounting such as accounts receivable, plus entry-level accounting such as reconciliations, intercompany transactions and close.
Doe says accountants have to figure out ways to maintain their role as RPA continues to shift more of the workload onto machines. For example, data entry tasks will be eliminated, which is similar to the evolution of the secretarial role to that of the executive assistant.
“Previously, the secretary’s main function was to be a typist with an old-fashioned typewriter,” Doe says. “The emergence of the computer made typing more efficient and the secretary had to take on higher-level tasks such as calendar planning, coordinating meetings, and thinking two to three steps ahead of the situation to avoid any issues that the boss may forget to consider. The same has happened, and will continue to happen, within the accounting role. From paper, to Excel, to desktop accounting software, to cloud software, and now to RPA. Data entry and journal entry adjustments will be managed 100 percent by machines, enabling the accountant to focus on financial strategy for clients and companies.”
Branding for CPAs
In the face of all this technology, now is more important than ever for young accountants to create a brand. Branding can pose a challenge, which is why Doe advises small- and medium-sized practices and individual CPAs on branding strategy.
“Everyone needs to think of themselves as an entrepreneur, even if they’re working in a company as an accountant, director of finance or even a chief financial officer,” says Doe. “And the biggest skill any entrepreneur needs to develop is how to position themselves and brand themselves.”
She says if an accountant takes a look at the industry and job market, they may be put off by the sheer number of bookkeepers and CPAs out there. It might seem like the market is saturated, and they’ll have a hard time finding a job. That’s where branding comes in.
“You need to figure out your specialty and create a niche for yourself,” Doe says. “You really want to establish yourself as that go-to resource and thought leader for your clients within that niche. As accountants, we are not taught branding in school unless you happen to minor in mass communication or marketing. That’s why I focus on brand building for millennials and Generation Z [the next generation to enter the workplace], because it’s going to be something they’ll need to be good at as technology commoditizes their role and makes it difficult to stand out.”
“I started the podcast as a way to connect with other thought leaders to see what they thought the future might look like.”
Doe feels so strongly about providing a resource for young accountants to learn and grow that she started her podcast, Future of Accounting, which is a weekly interview series featuring thought leaders and senior members within the profession.
“I started the podcast as a way to connect with other thought leaders to see what they thought the future might look like,” she says. “I wanted to forge relationships and create a resource. When I first launched, I immediately received feedback from students thanking me for being a virtual mentor. My hope is that the podcast sparks inspiration or a light bulb for someone studying accounting.”
To Doe, the future of accounting is going to be based on accountants being a value add rather than a cost centre. Accountants will have to learn how to incorporate technology so they can help their clients or their company reach revenue and brand awareness goals.
“Usually accountants see their role as a way to reduce expenses or be able to look back in history and see what changes they should have made,” she says. “Now, accountants will have to be forward-thinking and help clients navigate trends in their industry. They’ll be looking through the windshield rather than in the rearview mirror.”
So far, Doe’s guests on her podcast include Barry Melancon, the President and Chief Executive Officer of the American Institute of CPAs and CEO of Association of International CPAs, partners at firms, chief financial officers at large companies and executives at accounting software companies. But she found one woman, Judy Vorndran of TaxOps, a business tax speciality and advisory firm based in Colorado, to be particularly inspiring.
“I get a lot of inspiration from women who have paved the path for other women, especially in the financial industry,” she says. “It’s another industry where women are not in positions of power, at least as much as their male counterparts. So when I interview women who have reached the partner status within their firm, it’s super inspiring to me.”
In the interview, Vorndran spoke of difficulties she faced in her career and how she made her own path as a thought leader in sales tax. Her peers and boss thought sales tax was a lowly position, considered almost clerical, but Vorndran proved them wrong. “She stuck with sales tax and created a big name for herself,” Doe says. “The biggest takeaway I got was her ability to turn what seemed like a negative situation into something that worked to her advantage.”
When asked what young accountants can do to succeed in the future, Doe said one thing: keep an open mind. “It sounds so cliché, but I’ve done close to 50 interviews for my podcast, and 80 percent of these thought leaders say to keep an open mind,” says Doe. “The way to have an open mind is to read as much as you can, read about other industries, read about successful people who are from this era and from past generations, immerse yourself in as much information as you possibly can to see the opportunities and options out there other than what lives in your own mind. Be curious and follow your passion.”
According to a 2017 survey by Edison Research, 67 million Americans above the age of 12 listen to podcasts at least monthly, up 14 percent in one year, while 42 million listen on a weekly basis.