Accountants need not fear technology


Wednesday, August 08, 2018

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Technology has a profound impact on our lives. As more of us communicate through smartphones, laptops and tablets, technology is changing the way we interact with each other. Some researchers argue that the use of technology can isolate people, but there is strong evidence that technology is actually helping to strengthen business relationships.

Technology is transforming the way in which finance professionals, with increasing access to their clients' data, work.

The general move towards digitalisation is being advanced by regulatory requirements, which means that accountants need to clearly identify their relationship with their clients and develop a more relevant unique selling proposition (USP) for attracting new clients in the future. They will have to transform data into actionable and value-added advice.

Historically, accountants have been responsible for compliance, accuracy of data, technical and strategic advice. However, technology is opening up opportunities for new work streams. Some clients will embrace the idea of a digital relationship with their accountants; others will wish to maintain the status quo and continue to expect the same level of contact and personal service. Nevertheless, with the introduction of more stringent regulatory requirements, this means that maintaining the status quo is not an option.

The advisory side is key if practices are to engage and attract new clients, differentiate themselves from the competition and achieve growth. They will need a diverse portfolio of advisory skills and services which may include some not traditionally considered within the scope of an accountant — for example advising on workflows, operational issues and cybersecurity.

In addition, knowledge of the clients' industry and their aspirations, succession and strategic intent of management and shareholders will help accountants reconfigure their services and position themselves as a cohesive advisory hub. Many practitioners are now actively discussing client targeting as part of business development.

Client relationships will therefore, change dynamically at various levels of the organisation, and advisers will need flexibility, a high level of IT implementation skills, and the ability to explain key benefits to clients. For example, if half of clients in the small and medium-sized enterprise sector are walking around with dashboards on their phones or tablets, then accountants will have to become attuned to selling these services to achieve 'good data' and be adept at discussing outcomes to clients, perhaps on a daily or hourly basis.

Accounting firms which take this innovative approach will be significantly ahead of competitors who change reluctantly. This new environment will continue to evolve constantly.

There is, within all this change, a matrix that covers type of client, type of service, a multispeed move to full digitalisation, pricing by service and advice, and a deepening of the advisory services offered. Size, age and flexibility of the client/decision maker will be factors. There are other overlays too, and these will similarly provide opportunities and niches for the perceptive and receptive accountant.

By embracing what new technology can offer, accountancy firms will be better able to support their clients in the future. Clients' expectations of service are constantly increasing in response to technological advances. As automation makes the basics of compliance more straightforward, the most successful practices will be those that build enduring relationships with their clients and move towards a more holistic, multidisciplinary model that encompasses financial planning as well as accounting and tax advice.

As an accountant not currently working in public practice interfacing with auditors from a 'Big 4' audit firm, it was imperative for me to embrace the technology utilised by the auditors as they requested their schedules through a technological platform that allowed us to share data with them seamlessly in a secure manner. I was also able to view the progress of requests from them at any point in time, providing real-time information which led to the more timely completion of the audit.

There are various technological tools to aid in the preparation of a company's financials. Accountants are likely to select what is appropriate based on the size of the business for which it is to be used and the resources available to spend. Whether a simple spreadsheet-based software such as Excel is used or an enterprise resource planning software such as Oracle, which provides integration of other systems, either choice will certainly lead to more efficiency. Additionally, a simple spreadsheet, when compared to an entirely manual system, is likely to lead to a reduction of errors.

This efficiency is likely to lead to reduced timelines for the preparation of reports. Accounting professionals embracing technology should be more efficient and effective. The use of technology will permit more time to perform analyses and more critical activities, and less time performing routine tasks which can now be handled by technology.

This move towards technology will lead to the need for accounting professionals to be more technologically proficient with more enhanced critical-thinking skills.

Accountants have nothing to fear from utilising technology. In fact, we should embrace it because technology will help us to operate and manage our practices more efficiently, give more advice and support to our clients, and become better at what we do, thereby enhancing our value-added service to our clients.

— Yasmin Gibson is a chartered accountant with professional experience in auditing, insurance, manufacturing, and property management sectors. She is a fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Jamaica.

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