First there was specialization in the CPA profession, now there is hyperspecialization. What’s next? Microspecialization? Actually, yes, that’s on the way too, but for now we are going to stick with the concept of hyperspecialization for the purposes of this blog post.

So what is it and why do care? The Society’s task force on this topic last fall defined hyperspecialization as “Dividing work into ever smaller tasks performed by more specialized workers. Today, thanks to knowledge work and communications technology, this subdivision of labor often leads to improvements in quality, speed and cost, whether or not those pieces are outsourced and distributed within an organization or network.”

Specialization has been around in the CPA profession for at least 15 years. But with increasing complexity comes increasing need for even deeper and more detailed specialization. Thus, the more recent trend toward hyperspecialization. Rarely anymore can one CPA effectively do, say 10 different things, and be the sole source of services for a client. Now it takes a team, and the profession along with the clients and employers they serve may be better for it.

Hyperspecialization can occur in at least four different forms. First, within large firms, there is already a practice of hyperspecialization through internal staffing and job responsibilities. Second, there is hyperspecialization found in offshoring or outsourcing of certain tasks or duties. Third, many mid size firms belong to formal alliances where they tap into the resources of the alliance for certain specialties. Finally, there are informal networks where small firms may have arrangements with other small firms to better serve client needs in specific niche areas.

While there are many benefits to hyperspecialization, particularly in the end work product, there are some disadvantages to go along with advantages for individual CPAs. On the positive side, CPAs may have more flexibility, more opportunity to choose what projects they work on, and for some, the chance to use higher level skills such as critical thinking and problem solving if they no longer have to perform repetitive tasks. On the negative side, CPAs may be forced to choose a deeper specialty earlier in their career, which could jeopardize their development of broad business knowledge. Also, some skills could become obsolete as a result of accounting, tax or legislative changes.

Regardless, the pros outweigh the cons and hyperspecialization is here to stay. While the CPA profession may not get as specialized as the medical profession, hyperspecialization will continue to evolve, and advances in technology will make more hyperspecialization possible. One emerging concept that fits well with hyperspecialization is integrated reporting, and its need for specialized information about a business, both financial and non-financial.

Along with that, and aligning nicely with other Society initiatives and task forces, are the need for knowledge management and the development of specific skill sets with the use of new competency models. There could be many opportunities and threats to the Society in the areas of both membership and education due to increasing hyperspecialization.

So, are you a hyperspecialist? If not, what types of hyperspecialization are you seeing? Do you think it is a good thing or a bad thing?