A new breed of accountant is emerging as digital technologies and new regulations reshape the financial landscape. Strategic, client-focused, tech-savvy, and gifted with remarkable stakeholder management abilities, this new generation of financial professionals is creating a space for themselves as strategic business advisors to companies and clients alike.
At Sage, we talk about Accounting 3.0 and the Practice of Now for accountants in private practice. These days, accountants focus on how to consult to businesses on anything from forecasting and profit growth, to financial strategy. Gone are the days of them being solely preoccupied with recording transactions and preparing reports.
They have shifted their focus from numbers to building relationships and understanding their clients’ businesses. They also repackage accounting services as a complete business solution using the latest technology to drive efficiencies. Two main forces are driving this trend: changing client expectations, and higher levels of automation.
Technological developments, from the very first computer-based accounting solution, to today’s powerful cloud-based solutions, have enabled accountants to get more done in less time, and to have greater visibility into their clients’ finances.
As the technology revolution gains momentum, trends such as big data, artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, and the Internet of Things (IoT) will have a remarkable impact on the accounting profession, as menial services and tasks continue to be automated and delegated to technology.
Automation for accountants
The global Practice of Now report found that 49% of accountants would like to automate email, diary management, data entry, and number-crunching, and 66% planned to invest in AI to automate time-consuming and repetitive tasks. By automating the mundane tasks, accountants are able to free up time to focus on things that really matter.
Practice of Now 2019
The latest research reveals evidence of a cultural shift within the industry as it prepares for the coming decade. Recruitment, skills and training, business practices, service offerings and technology are all evolving.
Regarding the second trend, the mix of generations – Baby Boomers to Generations X, Y and Z – in the office is dramatically changing the world of work and the way businesses use technology and new modes of collaboration. Expectations are changing as businesses and clients look to accountants to add strategic value.
Keeping up with this trend will require a shift in the traditional culture and mindset of an accounting practice or finance department, which will take time and senior-level buy-in to implement.
These are the major considerations when growing customer relationships and future-proofing the accountant role in a business:
- Client-centricity: Instead of only focusing on bookkeeping and audits, accountants must start providing personalised and engaging experiences to both clients and internal stakeholders. They need to shift from transactional relationships to strategic partnerships.
- New skills: To build strong relationships with clients, accounting firms and finance departments will require a greater range of skills. They will need to recruit outside of the traditional accountant skill set, and onboard creative thinkers, tech innovators, project managers, and strong communicators.
- Building trust: Clients’ expectations of their accountants are changing. The Practice of Now report suggests that 83% expect more in terms of services and resources than they did five years ago. Accounting firms should be promoting the importance of understanding the client journey, building trust, and communicating often, rather than simply focusing on the bottom line.
- Tailored solutions: Clients want the ability to instantly access the information their accountant holds, and want to choose the different kinds of services they’ll receive. Having a tiered set of services, for example, offering additional business development consulting for high-end clients, allows the client to choose which option they want, which results in a personalised service and an overall good experience.
- Essential services delivery: Firms need to foster cultures focused on efficiency and modernising legacy processes, like manual data entry, which are so time-consuming that they hold accountants back from performing their jobs optimally. In order to truly transform their services, firms must look at the quality of the work and the value derived from it, rather than only focusing on the number of hours each project takes.
- Harnessing technology: Nowadays, businesses have instant access to cost-effective, world-class accounting solutions, which allow them to access and manage their finances from anywhere, and on any device. Accountants can only benefit from upgrading to cloud-based solutions. They are then able to collaborate with clients on the same software, in real-time, from any location.
Frequent and fast change is becoming the new normal for accountants. The ones who are most likely to excel are those that keep up with technology and market changes, while simultaneously focusing on building client relationships and experiences. The accountant of the future will embrace technology, innovate, and deliver best-in-class service, becoming an essential business partner in the process.