Changing role of the accountant – how to prepare

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There is change in the air — have you noticed it? A focus on technology,  as well as soft skills – combined with accountants’ quest to add more value to their clients – is catapulting us right into 2019. So, what’s happening now and how can accountants prepare for what’s ahead?

Cloud, AI, real-time data…

Cloud, AI, real-time data… just a few words to get your head spinning? According to a recent Thomson Reuters report, 95 per cent of accountants surveyed state their role is likely to change due to technology. Making tax digital (MTD) plays an important role of course, but other traditional tasks such as bookkeeping and data collections is expected to be increasingly automated over the next 10 years.

Technology including cloud software, automated tools such as chatbots, driven by artificial intelligence or statistical modelling software will be the norm in a few year’s time. Many businesses will feel overwhelmed, looking to their accountants for trusted advice. Hence, accountants need to be at the forefront of these changes to understand new technology and properly advise their clients.

I’d encourage you to embrace the changes brought by technology. After all, it can help free up your time so you can focus more on areas which it  can’t replicate, such as strategy, relationships, emotional intelligence and trust.

Moving on from the role of the ‘traditional’ accountant

With many tasks being automated by technology over the next years, new opportunities are opening up, pushing accountants  to go beyond their ‘traditional’ role. Many of the accountants we are partnering with are embracing this trend and started to add new services to their portfolio, aiming to become a one-stop-shop for financial needs. .

As the accountant, you know your clients’ financial situation and can provide consulting services linked to  new business opportunities. For example, you  can make recommendations on how to invest, when would be the best time to grow the business or whether extra funds might be needed to bridge the gap in receivables. Ultimately, by offering additional services, clients don’t see their accountant just as the ‘number cruncher’, but as trusted business adviser.

New skills for new times

Conquering the new tech challenges and expanding into advisory requires a new set of skills. In their recent report Professional Accountants – The Future, the ACCA hit the nail on the head: “All professional accountants will be expected to look beyond the numbers. They will need to collaborate and partner with people in other parts of the business and outside the business; interpret and explain the numbers; provide insight and information; help organisations to achieve short-term goals and longer-term objectives; think and behave more strategically and become more involved in decision-making than before.”

Ask yourself the following questions: Are you embracing new technologies? Are you thinking beyond your current remit to add more value to your clients? Do you have the necessary soft skills to succeed and retain your clients? The holiday season will give everyone some well-needed respite to reflect and recharge, but there is also room to think about how to tackle challenges and embrace opportunities.

So, how could you get a head start? Here are a few tips I’ve picked up from accountants recently:

  • “Go to network events and talk to peers in similar situations. For me, that’s the best way to find out what’s happening in the market.”
  • “Brainstorm with colleagues on the skills that are missing. Maybe your employer can organise a team training?”
  • “Accountex and Accountex Summit North are the go-to-events and the perfect opportunity to learn all about the new tech available in the market. Definitely sign up to these.”