The top four challenges facing accountants who serve SMBs

Published · 3 min read

Turns out that many things seem to be the same all over the world. At least when it comes to the opportunities and challenges facing CPAs and accountants serving small to medium businesses (SMBs) according to research in the IFAC Global SMP Small & Medium Practices Survey.

The International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) release states “While attracting new clients, keeping up with new regulations/standards, and pressure to lower fees remained key challenges faced by SMPs, attracting new/retaining existing staff made the top four challenges for the first time since the survey was conducted in 2011.

Additionally, the anticipated impact of technology developments over the next five years increased substantially in 2016 over 2015. Staying current with new hardware and software, as well as moving to the cloud, topped the list of technology challenges.”

Turns out that while doing an update for the IFAC Small to medium Practices Committee titled ‘The Anticipatory Accountant: How to Get Ahead and Stay Ahead’. This IFAC SMP Committee represented about twenty accountancy organizations from all over the world. When I polled them for their top challenges, they confirmed the four major challenges that we see across the finance and accounting profession in the US and globally. I call these the four T’s.

Talent

We are facing an intense war for talent that is further complicated by a disengaged and overwhelmed workforce. The severe talent shortage in the US and abroad has roots in the hard trends of demographics.

Technology

Technology is both a curse and a blessing. Most SMB accountants are struggling to keep up with technology inside their businesses and externally with their customers’ businesses. Technology also holds the key to productivity and business process transformation, saving time and engaging employees. Cloud accounting is THE foundation for moving to this new level of productivity and service.

Time

This is actually the #1 issue facing accountants as they struggle with information overload and doing more with less. This has the impact of forcing them deeper in the day to day, trying to keep up, instead of being proactive for clients and their organizations. This is dangerous in an era of faster and faster change when you need to be looking ahead even farther.

Transformation

I am hearing this word more and more as accounting firm leaders realize the tremendous opportunities that are available with value-added services that clients truly want and need. This is showing up in these studies as consulting and advisory services, most of which can be made possible with technology and new skills.

These issues facing small to medium practices and their clients are indeed the same the world over. The question is what can be done about it?

You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf. – Jon Kabbat-Zinn

How to become an “anticipatory accountant”

We believe that these issues are impacted by the underlying hard trends of demographics, exponential technology growth, and globalization. These trends are essentially future facts and will happen, whether we like it or not. The key is to find the opportunities in these hard trends. Our approach can be summed up in these five steps to become an anticipatory accountant:

  1. Initiate change before you have to. These exponential times call for leaders who can lead the transformation of their businesses before they face the ‘weak signals of disruptive change’ that will force them to change.
  2. Go digital. Harness technology to create efficiency and effectiveness, serve customers better and engage your people. New technologies are supporting new business models that can drive transformation.
  3. Elevate the skills of you and your team. In addition to technical skills to maximize your current and new technology, you will also need new skills for becoming proactive and future-focused. We have identified these new skills as anticipation, the missing competency for accountants and finance professionals.
  4. Protect your core purpose and values. In periods of rapid change, it is important to tell your team what will not change, which is often your purpose and values.
  5. Enjoy the ride. It is much more fun to be the disruptor than to be disrupted!

The good news is that despite these challenges, CPA and accounting firms all over the world continue to be among the most profitable small businesses. That means it is a great time to become an ‘opportunity manager’ and learn how to ride these big waves of change.

Surf’s up!

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