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South African accountancy firms on the brink of ‘positive disruption’, Sage research says

90% of South African accountants agree that new technologies have forced them to invest more and move faster to keep pace with the market and attract the best talent, more than the global average of 83%

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA, 18 September 2020 – Sage (LON: SGE), the market leader in cloud business management solutions, today released its fourth annual Practice of Now research report. The survey of 3,298 accountants in practice from across the globe, including South Africa, reveals that accountants are rapidly evolving their roles to become ‘change makers’, as digitalisation and growing client demands drive disruption and innovation across the industry.

Some 82% of South African respondents agreed that they need to increase the pace of technology adoption to stay competitive, and a staggering 97% said updating their technology has had positive impacts over the past five years, including more time, higher productivity, and lower costs. Close to two thirds (65%) said technology enabled them to provide faster service, positively impacting customer relationships.

Navigating uncertainty

The report also shows a robust and tech-enabled accountancy profession, well-placed to help their clients navigate the economic uncertainty of COVID-19. A vast majority (74%) of South African respondents were comfortable advising on technology implementation beyond accounting and finance (like automation, robotic process automation, and timekeeping software).

The research also found that 54% of South African accountants were moving away from traditional service models at the beginning of 2020. They were reinventing their core technologies, recruitment approaches, and skillsets to offer customers an end-to-end consulting service. Just 46% still considered themselves as number crunchers focused mainly on reporting.

Upping investment in new technologies to become more competitive

South African accountants think predictive analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), 5G, automation, blockchain, and IoT will have the biggest impact on the sector in the next three years. Nearly a third (29%) said they have already invested in emerging technologies, to varying degrees, while 22% planned to invest in emerging technologies in 2020.

PJ Bishop, Sage’s Vice-President for Partners, Accountants & Alliances for Africa and the Middle East, said: “Even before the global pandemic, the world of accounting was changing at high speed. Customers were already demanding more from their accountants, like advice on strategy and technology. Yet they don’t want to pay extra. The crisis has served to accelerate these disruptive trends.

“But disruption needn’t be a bad thing for accountants that seize the moment to use new technologies to create more value and address their clients’ changing demands. This is their opportunity to reinvent the practice, become an advisor on technology and digital transformation, on growth, and on compliance, and in so doing, offer a much more valuable proposition to the client base.

A new profession is emerging

The global survey reveals that growing client requirements and technologies are forcing a new kind of profession to emerge. More than half (51%) of global respondents believe accountants joining the profession today need financial business advisory skills, including cashflow and growth modelling. To provide these skillsets, more firms are willing to recruit outside of the industry – 82% say they are open to recruiting candidates without an accounting background, such as project management or customer services.

For South African respondents, talent and client relationships are as important as technology. More than half (56%) agreed that financial and business advisory skills are important. But so are softer skills, like trust, reliability and quality. And some 91% of South African accountants (compared to 84% globally) said that, if firms want to attract ‘digital natives’, they’ll need to reflect and nurture their progressive expectations, attitudes and talents.

Bishop said: “Evolving client demands, and digitalisation have been the drivers of major innovation across accountancy. South African accountants in practice are rising to the challenge, helping clients with crucial advice, new technologies and added services that will carry them through today’s disruptive business environment.”



The Practice of Now 2020 includes the findings of independent research commissioned by Sage in December 2019 and conducted by Savanta, surveying 3,289 accountants from across the globe (US, UK, Canada, Spain, France, Australia and South Africa).

The Practice of Now report is available for download here.