The accounting profession is evolving thanks to a transformative regulatory landscape, change in attitudes to workplace behaviours and the rise in digital technology, writes Intuit's Nick Williams.
Like other professional service sectors, accountancy is continually shape-shifting to meet the demands of new businesses that require speed, efficiency and increased flexibility. Those accountants who break the conventions of category and embrace technology are the ones who will be set up for success in years to come.
A revolutionary regulatory landscape
Making Tax Digital (MTD) offers accountants an opportunity to get behind small businesses and help them enhance their cashflow management, get paid faster and access capital to grow.
A new research report from independent economic consultancy Volterra Partners estimated that MTD will generate an annual benefit to small businesses of £6.9bn, or £46bn over five years in net gains in turnover and growth for the UK economy.
How businesses alter their operating models in response to the new landscape will set them apart. By adopting digital-first thinking, businesses gain the ability to outmanoeuvre those that are behind the technological curve.
Open banking presents another regulatory opportunity, with data exchange mechanisms that will broaden the banking and finance options for small businesses.
Increased transparency of data will help small businesses and their accountants work collaboratively to resolve key issues such as cash management and access to capital. It will also help them Identify and exploit opportunities for growth.
Transforming the modern workforce
Remote and flexible working are now common. A few years ago, this concept was virtually non-existent. Today, it’s a standard feature driven by socio-economic factors such as the rise of the gig economy.
The Office for National Statistics recently predicted that 50% of the UK’s workforce would work remotely to some degree by 2020. Employers as well as employees are seeing the benefits in reduced building costs, greater staff flexibility and access to a wider talent pool.
This approach to the new workplace status quo is not simply about catering to progressive individuals. It is fundamental to ensuring a practice’s viability and long-term business performance.
How we interact with others and the frequency of those connections has changed over the past decade. For example, 41% of business leaders report an increase in the number of video conference calls in the last three years.
By 2025 it’s expected that Generation Z - those born between 1996 and 2010 - will form 27% of the workplace and generation Alpha (2011 on) will account for 2bn more than a third of the global population.
As younger workers filter into practice, they will bring completely different viewpoints and attitudes to work and will be at home with the physical and technological aspects of work, to re-focus their attention on more creative processes to drive business growth.
Technology is the future
We are caught up in a technological revolution where 85% of people in the UK have a smartphone and 30% of small businesses use one as the primary device to run their business.
With broadband uptake across the UK opening the gateway to cloud-based accounting solutions we’re able to access, process and work with even larger datasets while on the move.
At the same time, financial management software is taking on board capabilities for analysing big data and optimising experiences through optical and voice recognition, machine learning and artificial intelligence.
Today, the uptake of big data analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning within financial management software is shifting the capabilities and speed of the work, optimising the likes of optical recognition, voice search and mobile.
Accounting professionals need to take advantage of this moment to become more trusted advisers and better serve their clients.
Digital is crucial to the success of both small businesses and accounting professionals. For example, 89% of small businesses are more successful when they’re working with an accounting professional, yet 50% of accounting professionals are unprofitable.
A tech-first mindset can ease the burden of admin to allow accountants to deliver higher value consultancy, support more small businesses and make more money.
The accountant of tomorrow
Accountants will need more technology and data skills as well as a greater emphasis on things like soft skills, critical thinking and adaptability.
As big data continues to mature, finance professionals will need to exploit the vast amounts of information at their disposal to create insights, foresights and ultimately drive value for their clients and their firms.