What comes next for accountants?
Soldo CFO Dynshaw Italia considers how businesses can find the perfect balance between controlling spend (without slowing the business down too much) and driving fast growth (without losing control).
Accountants have always played a vital role in business, but as the world rapidly changes, businesses must support accountants in taking a greater advisory role.
The role of accountants is evolving. In the past, simply staying on top of the books was a full-time job, and the majority of their daily tasks were either administrative or gatekeeping – controlling the ways that the company funds were spent.
Gatekeeping remains, and will likely always remain, an integral part of the job, but as technology has improved and global circumstances have shifted, businesses need their accountants to take on a more strategic role. Accountants have access to insights that others in the business do not, and they have a unique potential to enable change and power growth, so it’s essential that businesses understand that they are more than just the gatekeepers of the company coffers.
Accountants are up to the task – and survey data shows that most eager to take on new responsibilities – but businesses must first demonstrate trust by putting them in control of the technology they use. Businesses which embrace their accountant’s enabling capability will see significant advantages – and all they need to do is make an initial investment in tech.
An accountant’s potential
Despite progress in recent years, accountants still haven’t been enabled to reach their full potential. According to a CGMA survey from last year, more than 5,500 finance professionals reported being keen to spend more time advising and supporting decision-makers. A fully empowered accountant means much more than just accurate forecasts and insightful analyses. With the right resources, accountants can become enablers for change across the entire business.
An accountant could use their insights into cash flow to identify opportunities that others in the C-suite may have overlooked, and they could use their forecasting alacrity to anticipate obstacles with plenty of time to adapt. Accountants could become an engine for growth, transforming the business at large – they just need the tools to do so.
The key to this change, as with most changes in the modern business world, is technology. The need for a digital transformation for accountants has two components. First, technology can make the necessary administrative and gatekeeping functions of accounting more efficient, providing accountants with more time for complex tasks. Meanwhile, technology can produce more detailed data at a faster rate and allow them to do more with it.
Many finance teams remain relatively conservative when it comes to technology, however, the current moment demands boldness, and it’s time for companies to embrace change and remove the obstacles in their accountant’s way.
Creating more time for valuable work
An accountant who spends hours each week buried in mountains of paperwork and manually filing receipts has no time to enable growth. The first step in the accountant’s journey to digital transformation, therefore, is to improve the efficiency of the tasks and processes that they do every day.
Research has found that, on average, two in every five of a finance employee’s working hours are spent on collecting and processing data. This is clearly an area ripe for improvement – and technology offers solutions. For instance, software which allows for the transfer of data in a common format prevents information from becoming lodged in ‘silos’ and costing the team time to extract. Similarly, some modern software solutions can even automate the entire data gathering process.
Smarter spend management
Accountants act as a crucial gatekeeper, ensuring that every penny that leaves the business is well-spent. However, all too often this task also takes up a disproportionate amount of their time, limiting their ability to take on more complex tasks. Up to date spend management software provides all of the benefits of traditional gatekeeping with a fraction of the time commitment.
Rather than adding red tape to every purchase, modern solutions involve digital or physical cards with usage restrictions that accounting teams can tailor to each individual employee. Similarly, as with many technologies, more modern software also yields better data. In the case of spend management, this means near-real-time data on employee spending, allowing the accountant to get a clearer understanding of cash flow than ever before.
The accountant’s future is remote
The coronavirus pandemic has forced all of us to reconsider the way we work, in some ways for the better. Employees who may previously have never considered it possible – or may never have been allowed – to work from home have largely demonstrated that it can be done successfully.
We are unlikely to go back to the old status quo of predominantly-office-based work for some time, if ever, and it is important that businesses factor this into decisions. for businesses, this means enabling their accountants to choose the tools and technologies they need, both for the gatekeeping tasks they already undertake and the enabling tasks they aspire to take on in the near future.
Let finance lead the way
If accountants can adopt technologies that speed up – or even automate – gatekeeping processes like reporting, reconciliations and expense management, they will have more hours in the day for high-value analytical and advisory tasks. When it comes to determining what areas can be automated or streamlined, nobody has a better idea than accountants themselves. Businesses which place them at the head of their own digital transformation will be amazed by how quickly and fully an empowered accountant can improve an organisation.
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Dynshaw has over 20 years’ experience working and developing fast growing brands. His specialities include building a finance function to deal with rapid growth, raising finance, cost-cutting and change management. Prior to his role at Soldo, Dynshaw played a key role in building the Cobra Beer brand in the UK as group COO and CFO.