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Organizations are increasingly turning to accountancy firms for strategic business counsel

While 78% of accountants are confident in their ability to provide such services, training is still lagging behind, with only 34% currently offering training courses on financial advisory

ATLANTA – August 25 2020 – Sage, the market leader in cloud business management solutions, today released its fourth annual Practice of Now research report. The survey of 1,010 American accountants in practice reveals that they are increasingly being called on to provide wider business counsel and finance advisory services as clients look for increased guidance during – and following – the current global crisis.

Across the United States, 79% of accountants say that client expectations have expanded to include the provision of business and finance consultancy, while 86% say clients are increasingly demanding greater flexibility within their budget to access the services of most importance to their business. However, a majority of respondents believe they are well positioned to meet these demands, with 78% saying they are already confident in their ability to provide consultancy services to clients.   

Tom Hood, CEO of the Maryland Association of CPAs (MACPA) said: “COVID-19 has really emphasized the importance and role of accounting in business and overall corporate growth strategies. If all you're doing is compliance, then you're not helping to add value for the client or creating what's needed in this economy. Everything that's happening, all of the relief programs, are coming through the accounting systems – you are experts in the language of business and needed now more than ever to help businesses navigate through the COVID-19 storm.”

To meet the changing needs of clients, accounting firms are increasingly turning to cutting-edge technologies to provide deeper insights and minimize the time required for repetitive tasks. Almost half (43%) believe the integration of technology has already made them more productive, while 40% of respondents are either currently investing in or plan to invest in predictive analytic capabilities over the next 12 months.

Moreover, while investment into technology is indeed increasing, it still isn’t considered a large enough priority for many. Two thirds (66%) of respondents believe they need to increase their rate of technology adoption to remain competitive. However, in a fairly concerning trend, this heightened adoption of technology could create a digital divide between smaller and medium-sized firms.

Respondents from smaller firms were both less likely to see themselves as early adopters of technology and less likely to be experiencing the benefits of current technology investment. Fewer small firms saw a positive impact of new technologies than their larger counterparts, with only 22% saying it has helped win new clients and only 35% believing it has made staff more confident and competent. To keep pace with larger competitors, smaller firms need to continue investing in new technologies while also ensuring they are taking the time to maximize their current investments.

The survey also shows that U.S. employers are continuing to reimagine what the ideal accountancy candidate looks like. More than half of respondents (54%) believe candidates should also have financial advisory skills, while one third (32%) believe candidates should also have broader business management skills.

However, while firms recognize the importance of these emerging skillsets amongst Accountants, the survey reveals an opportunity to increase investment in existing training programs. Despite being a highly desired skill, only 34% of respondents currently offer training courses on financial advisory while only 29% provide training to develop project management skills. As firms continue to meet the changing demands placed on accountants, focusing on employee development will only increase in importance and ultimately provide a competitive advantage.

 

Ed Kless, Sr. Director, Partner Development and Strategy, Sage, had this to say:

“US businesses continue to look to the accounting profession to deliver strategic insights and consulting, with the current economic climate only increasing the importance of this function. This is both an opportunity and responsibility for the profession, and it’s incumbent on all firms to place their teams and colleagues in a position to provide this value to customers. This year’s report reflects a profession coming to terms with the changing role of the accounting professional while also highlighting the vital role technological investment, team education and an innovative approach to hiring will play over the coming years.”

Global Survey Insights

The Practice of Now report also highlights the major trends and issues impacting accountants globally and shows that accountants are rapidly evolving their roles to become “change makers’” as digitalization and growing client demands drive disruption and innovation across the industry.

Changing Client Demands in a Changing World

The report shows that all-around the world, accountants are being called upon to provide critical business advice and insights like never before. Overall, 82% of accountants say clients are demanding more business advice and consultancy services, while 87% agree they expect more flexibility and better service without an increase in rates.

Luckily, the report also shows a robust and tech-enabled accountancy profession which is well-placed to help clients navigate the economic uncertainty of COVID-19. The majority are confident they can provide business management and advisory services (79%), industry-specific advice (75%), and technology implementations beyond accounting and finance products (73%).

Continued Investment in Cutting Edge Technology

Globally, accountancy firms are integrating technologies in order to enable their staff to provide the business counsel clients now expect. Over half (54%) said they can provide clients with a faster service thanks to new technology such as 5G, automation and AI, and 43% believe it has improved service and client satisfaction. The overwhelming majority of accountants (91%) believe new technology delivers value to their business, and 44% describe themselves as early adopters – compared to only 35% last year.

Firms look set to continue investing in new technologies, with 83% of respondents believing the ongoing effects of technology and digitalization will require them to invest more and faster to keep up with the market.

The Modern Accountant

The survey also reveals that growing client requirements and technologies are forcing a new kind of professional to emerge. More than half (51%) of 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. 

New talent has also become a vital source of innovation: 84% of accountants agree that prospective younger employees have progressive expectations, attitudes and talents, which are forcing them to change and reflect in order to attract the best employees.

For more information or to download your copy of the research, visit here.

Methodology

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).

About Sage

Sage is the global market leader for technology that provides small and medium businesses with the visibility, flexibility and efficiency to manage finances, operations and people. With our partners, Sage is trusted by millions of customers worldwide to deliver the best cloud technology and support. Our years of experience mean that our colleagues and partners understand how to serve our customers and communities through the good, and more challenging times. We are here to help, with practical advice, solutions, expertise and insight.