Future Firms


This is an exploratory project to build a framework that helps professional services firms – from international corporate networks to local accounting practices – to think about how the profession can evolve, given the changes in society, business, technology and culture.

This is a very practical project that can bring together existing ideas about the future of the firms and, working with a variety to ICAEW members, build up a solid framework that outlines the contours of the future firm and what this might mean for the profession as a whole. We are collaborating with  ShiftBase – a think-tank that brings a decade of research on the future of work, focusing on the impact of digital transformation and the societal case for upgrading our organisational models and institutions. Together, with input from a wide range of ICAEW member firms, we will undertake original research and will build a knowledge base of useful techniques and models.

Searching for questions

The goal of AuditFutures is not necessary to provide the answers to the big questions the profession is facing. Instead, we want to catalyse discussions and build a platform to democratically engage with these big problems. Our goal with the Future Firms is to inspire collaborative action among the accountancy firms and to build a research framework as a practical tool for individual firms and a platform for dialogue between the firms and society.

A number of organisations are developing interesting work in this space and variety of strategic projects are underway internally within most accounting firms. ICAEW ran a very prolific quantitative and qualitative research – Tomorrow’s Practice – to identify what the forces of change were on practices and to understand what the current state of play was. Therefore, we are setting this project to consolidate the most interesting and thoughtful ideas and research and to explore how we can think about the accounting practice firm of 21st century.

Accepting challenges

Creating a practical tool for dialogue and innovation will bring some challenges but instead of navigating around them, we will turn them into cornerstones of the project. The most obvious one is about size and definition. Professional services firms are extremely diverse in size, structure and scope and there is still a big challenge to construct a way to think about the units of work that help the profession deliver services and proves to be valuable to a big 4 firm and a sole practitioner.

Another challenge is to build a framework that can help organisations evolve and/or plan for disruption but also can help professionals connect into new and disruptive organisations. This arises on the agenda of many large corporations as they try to embrace disruption as opportunity while also try to balance the adeptness of long-term strategic planning and traditional hierarchical approaches to innovation.

The most interesting challenge is how to build a precompetitive space for knowledge sharing and collaboration that plays in harmony with the commercial competitiveness of individual firms. I believe that while the Future Firms framework will prove to be very useful and valuable strategic toolkit for businesses, it will also help the accounting practices to come together. It will help to demonstrate that professional in professional services firms is about belonging to a profession. It will articulate an aspiration to contribute to a greater social purpose and to empower individuals as key to running a successful and profitable business.

Scope of the project

The project has begun with a research study to gather and synthesise existing publications and initiatives. If you want to suggest research or articles – from academia, practice or industry – please use the form on our website. We will welcome all views on the dimensions of a future firm and we encourage you to get in touch.

This will combine roundtable discussions and a web-based survey, which will inform an evolving issue map. Please contact us if you are interested in hosting a roundtable discussion at your firm or to sign up to the web-based survey.

A central output of this research study is the multi-dimensional Future Firm Framework, which is both a tool for dialogue and a method for capturing the outcome of the research. The framework will be represented by a dynamic, interactive issues map that we will update periodically based on participant input, and these can be shared and debated on our blog. We will host an Accountancy Salon to share the key findings of this exciting cross-professional collaboration.

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