Tech revolution will free accountants from their staid life
FEW professions have a more staid image than accounting. Stereotypes range from “boring” to “bean counter”, with little alignment to personal or business goals.
It may come as a surprise, then, that accountants are probably more prepared for the technology revolution than most professions — and precisely because they are aligned with their clients’ needs.
A survey conducted by World Wide Worx for Xero, the UKheadquartered small-business accounting software company started in New Zealand, reveals that the vast majority of South African accountants are gearing up for the future.
Of 200 accounting firms surveyed for the South Africa State of Accounts study, 88% agreed that in-depth knowledge of technology and automation would be crucial to their success in the next three years. That was a remarkably similar figure to the 87% of small and medium enterprises that preferred to work with accountants who understood technology.
The relationship may not remain so cosy. Of 400 South African SME decision-makers interviewed, almost a third believed that technology could automate accounting so much within 10 years that they may not need accountants. Already, data entry and bank-statement processing is done by software.
That doesn’t mean the profession will be redundant. The most telling finding was that a quarter of SMEs regularly ask their accountants for non-accounting advice. In other words, many accountants are evolving into business consultants, as the technology frees up the time they would have spent on “bean-counting”.
And this is about to accelerate. When choosing accountants, say no less than 62% of the SMEs, the potential for “added value” receives the highest possible importance rating. Moreover, 65% of SME owners already regard their accountants as their most trusted advisers.
Business advice is core to these expectations, but so is the ability to forecast — rated as very important by more than half of respondents.
Of course, training will be critical: 80% of accountants acknowledge they’ll need some in the next five years to adapt.
There is a massive positive spin-off for accountants using technology to its full potential: speed of response. Seven out of 10 SME owners cite this as a deciding factor when finding professionals.
Then there is the ultimate benefit: breaking away from the all-work-and-no-play image of accountants. As the report says: “In 2017, an industry professional no longer has to work a punishing eight-to-five schedule in a drab, grey office: they can work remotely from home, on public transport, or the beach — within business hours of their own choosing.”
Contrary to the stereotype, accountants do have a life. And more than two-thirds of those responding to the survey said that increased flexibility in hours would have benefits outside the office, as in raising children.
Thanks to software automation doing mundane tasks, the report concludes, services can be provided outside a conventional time frame. It also creates a new category for this profession: the “on-demand accountant”.
The next big shift in accounting technology will probably be around artificial intelligence, which sounds even more threatening. But accountants may just be ready for it.
Goldstuck is the founder of World Wide Worx and editor-inchief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter @art2gee