Jennifer Warawa, EVP of Partners, Accountants & Alliances at Sage, discusses the evolution of accountants from number-crunchers and tax-filers to drivers of business success.
Businesses today want more from their accountants. Business strategy, growth planning and future vertical industry trends are all areas that accountants are expected to offer input on with knowledge and confidence.
Sage’s Practice of Now 2018 report found that 83 per cent of clients are demanding more from accountants today than five years ago, while 42 per cent also expect their accountant to provide business strategy and advice.
It’s likely that many accountants are managing this transition with a mix of anticipation and trepidation.
Beyond the books
With clear sight into a company's profits, losses and operational expenditure, accountants have a birds-eye view of a business and can clearly see what growth strategies are working and which aren’t. This vantage point is often under-appreciated within the businesses they work for, but accountants can be a fantastic source of information and insight.
Until now many accountants have been expected to ‘do’, often without being asked for their opinion or input on the strategic elements of the business growth plan. But what is certainly clear is that clients’ expectations have changed – and accounting professionals are in a stronger and more valued position than ever before.
For years, accountancy teams have crunched numbers. But now, they are being asked to use these figures to help support new strategies and changes of business direction. Better still, before these strategies are developed they can offer suggestions on business direction based on what the numbers and insights are telling them.
Imagine a world where business strategy is driven by numbers, instead of just supported by them. That time, it seems, is now.
Forging into new markets, calculating the risk versus benefit of launching new products and services, and determining which parts of a company require investment are all areas of responsibility rarely associated with accountants. And yet, these are expected of accountants today.
This will no doubt be an intimidating prospect for some, and an exciting one for others. So how can accountants keep up with the pace of change and become truly invaluable to their clients? The future of accounting lies in technological innovation and improving productivity but also in being able to provide guidance and consultancy, beyond their traditional remit.
Shake up today’s business for tomorrow’s success
For accountants servicing small- and medium-sized businesses, there are ample opportunities to improve and drive value – and technology innovation is often a good place to start.
For example, wider use of cloud-based systems can dramatically improve processes and drive efficiency. As remote working becomes common practice, cloud accounting enables staff to work seamlessly and quickly, no matter their location. If someone is on the move, reports can be accessed on mobile devices to make instant updates, to which people back in the office can respond immediately. With a master database in place you will also avoid duplication, making for seamless collaboration that will reduce time spent fixing problems and increase productivity.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach, and the myriad of systems to choose from can be dizzying. But the right innovation in accountancy can significantly reduce admin and allow staff to use the time to carry out strategic tasks to bolster a business’ bottom line.
Many accountants have already significantly changed how they approach their work or service their clients, and the question they may be asking is, ‘what next?’
Technology with machine learning or ‘smart’ capabilities may well be the answer. Through the use of automation and the ability to work anywhere and anytime, some 66% of accountants said they would invest in artificial intelligence.
At first this may require some investment and learning of new skills for accountants and their firms, especially given only a href="https://www.sage.com/au/~/media/c89d1c104ea7401daa7f1e27f0a9c7be.ashx">39% of accountants from around the world describe themselves as early technology adopters. Yet with an eye on the future, these outlays in money and time can yield much more valuable results further down the line.
Newly skilled accountants, backed by the latest technology, will be better prepared to transition into a world beyond balancing books and filling out forms into one that offers the chance to help drive a business’ future.
Preparing for change
Mirroring the business world as a whole, accountancy is changing rapidly - and is a very different world from 10 years ago. For some, the evolution is swift and with others it is more of a gradual transition. But regardless, change is an opportunity.
Businesses will almost certainly gain more value from their accountants if they see them less as financial administrators and more as consultants with specialist knowledge and deep operational and strategic insights. Accountants and companies willing to embrace this shift will be at the forefront of future business leadership, while those that resist it risk being left behind.