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.
The role of today’s accountant is far different than in decades past. Ten years ago, accountants were primarily expected to manage finances and balance the books, but today businesses are expecting much more.
Accountants today are expected to thoroughly understand and actively contribute to business strategies and growth planning, all the while anticipating future vertical industry trends. As their role continues to change, many accountants are managing this evolution with a mix of anticipation and trepidation.
Sage recently published its Practice of Now 2018 study, which explores accountants’ attitudes towards this evolution and examines how their clients are changing.The report found that 83 per cent of clients are now demanding more from accountants compared to five years ago, while 42 per cent also expect their accountant to provide business strategies and advice.
Beyond the books
Accountants have a unique, often under-appreciated perspective within businesses. With clear sight into a company’s profits, losses and operational expenditures, they can see which growth strategies are working and which aren’t.
However, the under-appreciation is quickly changing as executives are now realizing the value accountants can bring to planning. Such a shift in thinking shouldn’t come as a surprise given that most areas of businesses now plan and execute based on data driven insights. This is merely an extension of the movement towards insight driven strategy and business planning.
The present reality is that numbers are no longer simply used to support formulated business strategies, they now play a key role in driving the formulation process. For instance, business priorities that involve pushing 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 accountants can provide invaluable insights around.
This will no doubt be an intimidating prospect for some, and an exciting one for others. So how can accountants keep up with their changing roles and responsibilities without losing step?
The future of accounting lies in technology innovation and productivity improvement, but also in the ability to provide guidance and consultancy beyond the traditional remit.
Shake up today’s business for tomorrow’s success
Many accountants have already significantly changed how they approach their work or service their clients, and now they may be wondering: ‘what next?’ Technology innovation is often a good place to identify and drive value and systemic improvements. This is as true for small to medium sized businesses as it is for large ones.
For example, wider use of cloud-based systems can dramatically improve processes and drive efficiency as the workforce becomes increasingly mobile. Cloud accounting enables staff to work seamlessly and quickly, no matter their location. Mobile devices can allow on the road employees to make instant updates, making for seamless collaboration that will reduce turnaround time and increase productivity.
The right technology innovation in accounting and business management can significantly reduce demand on resources and allow staff to use the time to carry out strategic tasks that will bolster a business’ bottom line.
While cloud-driven solutions can help improve productivity, machine learning or ‘smart’ capabilities can help accountants free up their time to focus on tasks that drive strategic value to the business. Through the use of automation and the ability to work anywhere and anytime, 66% of accountants said they would invest in artificial intelligence.
While this may require some investment and trainings for new skills, especially considering only 39% of accountants describe themselves as early technology adopters, the investments in time and training made today will pay significant dividends down the line.
Newly skilled accountants, backed by the latest technology, will be better prepared to transition into a world beyond just balancing books and filling out forms, and truly step up to be the invaluable accounting partner businesses now need.
Preparing for change
Mirroring the business world as a whole, the accounting profession is changing rapidly – and is a very different world from 10 years ago. The evolution may have felt swift for some and more gradual for others. Regardless of where one falls along that spectrum, change should be considered be an enormous opportunity.
Businesses will almost certainly gain more value from their accountants if they see them less as financial administrators, and more as consultants with specialized knowledge as well as deep operational and strategic insights. Accountants and companies willing to embrace this shift will be well positioned for success, while those that resist it risk being left behind.
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