Five Questions With: Melissa D. Travis

Melissa D. Travis has been at the helm of the Rhode Island Society of Certified Public Accountants since February. The Cumberland native is the first woman to serve as its CEO and president and has worked aggressively to expand education and training programs for the 2,100-member group.

In October, the society launched the RI Business Forum, which promotes workforce initiatives, leadership development and networking opportunities for members. It includes a breakfast series featuring speakers from a host of industries.

PBN: Why did you decide to launch the RI Business Forum?

TRAVIS: RI Business Forum is a new statewide, multi-industry organization highlighting innovation and economic development across Rhode Island. The forum features a breakfast series, networking events, exclusive member products, workforce initiatives and executive training programs. RISCPA members and our partners serve every industry and organization in Rhode Island; this platform allows us to expand our presence across these industries while giving the business community a seat at the table – it’s a true game changer.

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PBN: How have members responded to the launch of the forum?

TRAVIS: The response has exceeded our expectations – our first two events sold out. Most recently, we were honored to host the SBA director of international trade and his leadership team for the RI International Trade & Export Forum that included RISCPA partners [Rhode Island Manufacturers Association], U.S. Small Business Administration and [Rhode Island Trucking Association]. We are thrilled they chose to announce new programs in Rhode Island – this speaks to the relationships we have in place with our industry partners and the business community. The response to the event has been so overwhelming that we are planning a follow-up event in early 2020. We are also working with the Rhode Island District Office of U.S. Small Business Administration and RIMA to distribute program specifics to CPA members, manufacturing companies and supply-chain partners.

PBN: Your last forum of the year on Dec. 11 features Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor. How do you choose the focus for each event and why was Pryor selected?

TRAVIS: The RI Business Forum platform was founded to support business growth and innovation in Rhode Island. Since taking the helm of Commerce, Secretary Pryor has worked tirelessly with industry leaders to improve our business climate, which is critical to helping business thrive. We are hosting the secretary to give businesses the opportunity to learn about new initiatives and existing programs through Commerce and how to take advantage of these programs. Most business owners are so busy trying to keep up with the day-to-day operations, they may not know about initiatives that could benefit them. This breakfast is an opportunity for business owners and their advisers to learn about these programs – and get them in place for 2020.

PBN: How prepared is the local industry for innovations such as blockchain and artificial intelligence?

TRAVIS: Both artificial intelligence and blockchain are major disruptors in our industry because they impact how CPAs and auditors perform their work. It is safe to assume that within the next few years most tasks, such as payroll, tax, banking and audits, will be automated. The big four accounting firms and major financial houses have been moving to AI for years, but how local firms are adapting to these technologies depends on the size of the firm, the client base and whether the firm is focused on accounting or is in the auditing space.

Blockchain is appealing to CPAs because it provides the reliable measurement accountants strive for while eliminating the need to perform complex manual tasks that by nature have the possibility of human error. The technologies perform complex transactions that used to take days or weeks [saving time and money], while the ability to interpret vast amounts of data, that for humans would be unthinkable, creates a world of possibilities; however the technology is not cheap and takes time to implement. Transitioning to AI and blockchain may not be feasible for our smaller members; RISCPA is looking for ways to help these firms innovate and remain viable.

PBN: What are you doing to help members take advantage of data-analytics tools?

TRAVIS: Data analytics is transforming the accounting and financial-services industries [and others, such as manufacturing] at a faster pace than anyone could have predicted just a few years ago. We recently launched a two-day data-analytics course and have added in-demand training programs for 2020. RISPCA was the first state society in the U.S. to implement a workforce-training program through Real Jobs RI and we are excited to announce that a new technology workforce initiative will be launching in 2020.