The future of finance is the end of accountancy (as you know it)
Whether for the better or worse (in most cases probably both), every business and sector has been affected in some way by technological advancement, and accountancy is no exception.
With the right systems and tools, computers can easily perform tasks like tax preparation, reconciliations and make short work of bookkeeping. Increasingly sophisticated technologies allow accountants to enhance their traditional ways of working, meaning that accountants are no longer simply “bean counters”, but professionals who are able to use these tools to be of even greater value to their clients.
As a profession, accountancy is certainly not exempt from technology-driven change. In fact, financial technology (fintech) is radically disruptive to traditional accountancy on many fronts, and like many sectors, artificial intelligence (AI) is very likely to replace many job functions. While this a concerning prospect for many in the industry, the most forward-looking firms are actually very comfortable about the fact that in the near future, provision of basic compliance services will no longer require the time and services of expensive qualified professionals. Cloud-based technology that is faster, more effective and even more accurate than humans will be used to provide most traditional accountancy services.
Future-focused accountants are already actively focusing their energy, not on resisting change, but on taking the opportunity to be of even greater value to their clients.
Focusing on the future
New tech tools free up accountants’ time to focus on providing higher-value services, using their professional insight and capabilities to “read” the numbers and translate them into tangible, real advice and recommendations.
A big benefit to clients is that they will pay less for traditional accountancy services. Already compliance services are seen as an enforced purchase by many businesses and there is strong competition between accountancy firms and fintech new entrants to the market.
The advantages clients will enjoy goes far further than just saving a few quid on their accounts, bookkeeping or payroll services though. The stereotypes of number crunchers and “bean counter” jokes have plagued accountants since the dawn of the profession – and perhaps once upon a time, these had a basis. Now however, things are very different. I’m loud, extrovert, tattooed and rarely seen out of my (designer!) jeans and trainers - and yet I’m director of two financial service firms! Accountants can of course be as interesting and diverse as any other profession – but at the same time who would want to be the client of an accountant that wasn’t good with numbers?
I’d argue that number crunching alone hasn’t been enough for some time – and especially looking forwards, just being good with numbers isn’t enough anymore. The accountancy firm of the future will of course need “numbers” staff, but the true value they can offer clients will be in using those numbers and a wealth of business experience and acumen to help businesses succeed, not in compliance.
Good accountants will work closely with clients to understand and address their needs. The numbers will be important, but the insight and advice they are able to offer is far more valuable, enabling business owners to overcome obstacles, maximise opportunities and minimise threats to their business.
Business is a complex web of finance, processes, products, sales, marketing, innovation and people. A business might be family owned, franchised or have complex shareholding arrangements. There will be multiple motivations with varied short and long term goals. That’s why the best firms won’t just have accountants to provide advice – they’ll have a team of experienced business experts, who can offer guidance and insight from a range of perspectives. At my practice, we’ve put together a team of highly experienced business advisors each with extensive ‘hands on’ business experience. They are not accountants but work closely with the team to provide an exceptional range of support services.
This is where the future become really interesting and exciting for accountants and their clients. Business advice combined and informed by financial expertise is a powerful combination. Business owners and their management have always had coaches, mentors and Non-Executive Directors they could turn to – in the future (or already, in the best forward-thinking accountancy firms!) those services will be available from your accountant. Clients will benefit not only from expert financial professional support, but also from access to a business expert with a strong support team of qualified professionals.
The end of accountancy as you know it is already underway. “Bean counter” stereotypes will probably continue to bash accountants for a few more years, but the industry is changing - and it’s fantastic news for business.