Accountants forecast role change by 2020

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The majority of accountants recognise that in ten years’ time technology will change their role and anticipate the need to integrate new skills and capabilities if they are to thrive, according to new research from Thomson Reuters.

As data from the 2018 Accounting Excellence awards confirms, cloud accounting has already transformed the role of an accountant, particularly with the progressive side of the profession. But Thomson Reuters’ Accountant of Tomorrow report shows how this realisation has bedded in across the profession.

Tech will transform the profession

96% of the 345 accountants in practice surveyed in June expect the advances of technology to change their role. The same percentage also believes they’ll need to develop new skills by 2028.

This number suggests either the creation of a new role or more time spent on areas beyond bookkeeping, which 48% of respondents expect to be spending much less time doing anyway. Similarly, 75% foresee dedicating little or much less time towards accounts preparation in ten years’ time.

Instead, the respondents see their role evolving into a more tech-orientated position, with 89% underlining cloud technology as critical for their firm in the future. Much more time will likely be spent reviewing their clients’ internal systems and procedures and recommending IT systems.

This added tech attribute has already posed a recruitment problem for some more progressive accountants. Olly Evans from Evans and partners, for instance, has told AccountingWEB about how he's spent a considerable amount of time recruiting for a “role that doesn’t exist yet”. Therefore, an IT-focused accounting recruit will only become more attractive as the decade marches on.

The current compliance concerns have certainly contributed towards the realisation that technology will change accountants' role. Most notably, Making Tax Digital presents an extreme concern for 25% of those surveyed. Confirming what we’ve seen anecdotally on Any Answers, 68% of respondents expressed concern – varying from ‘somewhat’ to extreme – about the tightening of compliance regulations for their clients. The same concerns are also felt about increasing regulation from industry bodies and HMRC (63%).

Despite regulation burdens, accountants are optimistic

For the majority of accountants, the increase in regulatory burdens has been countered by an increasing reliance on technology. Rather than a pessimistic outlook, 59% of accountants are positive about ‘tax in real time’.

The rise of technology and the likely automation of labour-intensive tasks such as bookkeeping, data collection and tax return submission are all contributing factors why 79% of the respondents accept that their business model will have to change within 10 years’ time.

It seems that accountants (or at least 82% of those surveyed) are looking to advisory services such as tax planning, virtual FD and business planning as their favoured growth opportunity.  

And this is where the optimism comes from, as CooperFaure Accountants’ founding partner, Freddie Faure, explained: “Machines can only do so much, but they can’t think and they can’t interpret information. You still need an accountant to do the critical assessments and understand how you can use that information to help the business in the future.”

With the hands-on value-add advisory working filling the gap of compliance work, Pell Artists’ Stephen Pell also believes the role of an accountant is going to change for the better. “Technology is going to make life much more enjoyable and rewarding for an accountant, and it will only bring benefits to the adviser, and to the client.”

You can read a copy of the Accountant of Tomorrow report here.

About Richard Hattersley

Richard Hattersley

Richard is AccountingWEB's practice correspondent. If you have any comments or suggestions for us get in touch.

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11th Sep 2018 12:31

- "hands-on value-add advisory working filling the gap of compliance work".

Where is all this extra 'advisory' work coming from?

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By Dandan
11th Sep 2018 17:30

The song by Zager and Evans (In the year 2525) springs to mind. But let's not go that far.

Just around the corner , HMRC is busy engaged in providing tax courses to their customers. In the recent months , I have been inundated with free online courses dealing with property tax - compliment of HMRC. The courses go quite deep and are as good as some courses that you would pay money for. The future of tax advisers seems bleak. Perhaps they should work for HMRC .There will be lots of openings.

Compliance work will be dwindling. No need to say more. Big gaps will need to be filled.

As for technology, I forsee cloud becoming obsolete in less than 10 years. What is currently in development is enough to blow your mind and it is not cloud.

Yes, the role of the accountant will change but not in the way that people think.

The article correctly argues that what is needed is a new breed that can function in this fast developing technological world. However, that may not be enough.

If the professional bodies are not able to be a few steps ahead, then the demise of the accountant is bleak.

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