Tech savvy accountants will navigate the digital future – AFR – Brand Discover

When most of us imagine accountancy, we think of a profession that tends to look back at our past with the hope of rectifying our occasional financial missteps. Yet this traditional view is changing rapidly. In the digital age, technology is enabling accountants to reshape their relationships with their clients and potentially become trusted advisers and move well beyond their relatively staid, compliance-driven role of the past.

This was one of the conclusions drawn from the recent The Practice of Now report commissioned by Sage. The report undertaken by independent research firm Viga surveyed 700 accountants from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, France, United States, Australia and Spain in a bid to understand what the landscape for accountants looks like today and will look like tomorrow.

One of the key findings was 96 per cent of accountants surveyed were optimistic about what lies ahead as the profession becomes more automated and offers them the opportunity to grow their suite of services. Furthermore, 68 per cent see their role changing through automation and 53 per cent see their roles becoming more strategic with the use of automation.

According to Sage Software Australia, Director of Accountants, Michael Farrell, the profession is undergoing a major step-change as technology is enabling accountants to move from being compliance driven to being more like business consultants.

“Most accountants are very much used to preparing information post-event but this is now changing considerably,” Farrell says.

This change is being driven by advances in cloud-based technologies and according to the report, 67 per cent of accountants surveyed have adopted a cloud-based practice. What this allows them to do is to free up more time to think more strategically about their client’s businesses as there is more information on hand.

It’s a trend permeating through many small businesses with Telstra’s recent 2018 Small Business Intelligence Report revealing the key to future success lies in using technology to better know and service your customer.

According to the report, customers are more aware than ever of the value of their data and they know when used in the right way, data can make their own experience more satisfying.

In a recent article titled The Changing Face of the Accountancy Profession by President of the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), Rachel Grimes, she acknowledged the explosion in technology and technology-enabled services would be a boon to the accountancy profession.

She said there is real opportunity for the accounting profession to help assist businesses and organizations successfully navigate the digital landscape.

And it goes beyond cloud computing she said, “blockchain holds great promise as a tool to help accountants assure a company’s financial security. The new technology has already transformed entire transaction structures for businesses. Its decentralized architecture could provide new levels of transparency and accountability and revolutionize real-time corporate reporting.”

She also suggested advances in artificial intelligence would also offer vast new potential for accountants when paired with a human accountants’ technical knowledge “to accurately interpret data and develop insights that will underpin more valuable strategic recommendations for their clients.”

“This also presents accountants with the opportunity to play a greater role as a strategic adviser and contribute to a more fulfilling and analytically-driven career that can open up more doors.”

Farrell agrees and says while accountants as a professional group have a conservative reputation, what they’re seeing with technology and the enormous amount of data they can now access is an opportunity to give their clients advice on the changes that can be made in their businesses today.

“It’s what clients are now expecting. They can see there is a lot of information out there and they want to use it as a source to make decisions. Moreover, they’re using non-financial data rather than just financial metrics to help with their business.

“For accountants, they can see how technology can better represent their financial reporting to clients in real language that people can hopefully understand. It also enables clients to use tools such as taking photos of their expenses in real time and have them uploaded immediately.

“Gone are the days of a shoebox full of receipts and importantly, it gives people the ability to take action based on results they see in real time.”

Interestingly, what technology does do is reduce the gap between the haves and the have-nots in the profession. Reason being is in the past the only way to have a broad understanding of all the data coming into a business was to run a large enterprise software team in-house and that required a significant investment which was often beyond the reach of smaller accounting firms. Cloud computing has completely changed the dynamic as it’s democratising technology. Smaller companies can now access enterprise level solutions in the cloud and be the architects of their own technology solution.

Farrell says we are starting to see a huge move away from the sale of software as a suite of products. The new reality sees the technology vendor provide a platform-based solution where the vendor provides the core components but there are other applications that can work on the platform as well.

“It’s allowing people choice so they can take an a la carte approach – an open marketplace where they can select apps they need and accountants can really design the way they want to service their clients.”

The key to creating this open marketplace is to ensure the platform’s application programming interface (API) is open. It’s not a closed loop of technology and Farrell says Sage is “very much focussed on open APIs.”

Moreover, much of what Sage is building will be built on the Salesforce platform because Farrell says Salesforce have pivoted their business from just being a CRM provider to a platform which other orgs can build out their apps on.

“The problems they have already solved helps open up a big platform to accountants initially which already offers a lot of applications.”

Yet while the cloud presents the accounting profession with an exciting future, Farrell cautions accountants about taking the technological leap too early. He says while it might be presented as the future of business by your peers in the profession it may not be the solution for your business.

“In some ways, it could be an inhibitor particularly if your firm needs to provide tailored or very specific services.”

Furthermore, he says some parts of Australia (especially in regional areas) do suffer a number of network accessibility issues and that is a concern for companies and will remain so for a while although Farrell is optimistic this will improve in the next 12 months.

Importantly, he emphasises the point that technology augments and should support the business process.

“It’s people and process first and technology second.

He says technology allows accountants to design the way they want to work with their customers.

“Don’t race to technology. First find out what your clients’ needs are and then design a way you want to work with your client and then bring technology inside to fit the design. It’s not digital first, it’s customer first.”

Farrell believes the market of the future will be driven by a range of factors with technology augmented by solid advice and support. For Sage, he says it’s all about helping their clients be successful with their customers and ensuring they’re successful in their businesses in the way they want.

“It’s about integrating all the technology options so everything works seamlessly.”

Sage (FTSE: SGE) is the global market leader for technology that helps businesses of all sizes manage everything from money to people – whether they’re a start-up, scale-up or enterprise. We do this through Sage Business Cloud – the one and only business management solution that customers will ever need, comprising Accounting, Financials, Enterprise Management, People & Payroll and Payments & Banking. Our mission is to free business builders from the burden of admin, so they can spend more time doing what they love – and we do that every day for three million customers across 23 countries, through our 13000 colleagues and a network of accountants and partners. We are committed to doing business the right way, and giving back to our communities through Sage Foundation.


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