Accountancy does not mean ‘boring big banks’

Accountants often have a bad rep – they can be seen as ‘grey’ people who sit behind a spreadsheet all day, tweaking numbers to make the books add up.

Never has this been further from the truth.

As a profession, accountancy has become one of the most exciting industries to work in. Gone are the days of a job for life; the modern accountancy professional now moves between industries and roles throughout their career.

With new technology disrupting traditional industries, this has opened up your career. An accountancy career no longer means working for a big firm or bank.

Now is the time

Accountancy skills are in short supply, which means that the stakes are in your favour. Whether you are interested in working for an exciting startup, a fast-growing SME, a multinational or one of the Big Four, your skills can open the door.

Research shows that 92 per cent of CFOs find it ‘challenging’ to find skilled finance professionals, according to the Robert Half Salary Guide 2016, published this month. The primary reason for this shortage is the lack of niche, technical experts available in the market.

This is good news. With accounting and finance skills in demand, you have the upper hand to choose the career path that suits you best.

“[Career paths] are broadening out to include newer types of businesses, providing novel opportunities to work with alternative finance companies and lenders, such as peer-to-peer lending companies and online investment management firms,” the report explains.

This has been spurred by the rise of broader financial business models. These are innovative, disruptive models that are challenging existing players. Their ‘slice of the pie’ is growing year on year, providing exciting opportunities for accounting professionals to help transform the industry.

In no particular order, what are the top five disruptive industries for an exciting career?

1. Crowdfunding

The last decade has been marked by the rise of crowdfunding platforms, and this is just the beginning. New avenues are opening for small businesses to access funding, helping them to overcome the barriers they often face when approaching traditional banking channels for financial support.

Companies such as Zopa, Funding Circle and Ratesetter have all exploded in the last few years, acting as online financial matchmakers for individual borrowers or companies with savers willing to lend. This peer-to-peer lending market is now worth £3.2bn and accountants are in high demand as the industry continues to thrive.

2. Alternative finance

Similar to the P2P crowdfunding market, alternative finance providers are challenging and innovating the traditional financial landscape to offer new ways of borrowing money.

Companies such as Fleximise, Alternative Business Funding and others are competing against traditional high street banks to offer alternative lending schemes for SMEs. Commercial finance providers such as MarketInvoice are truly disrupting the market: launched in 2010, the platform allows SMEs to trade outstanding invoices with institutional investors online. To date, the company has funded more than £686m worth of invoices.

The total amount of money lent and invested by fintech companies such as these has already exceeded £5bn, making it an exciting industry for accounting professionals to work in today.

3. Retail

Yes, retail! This is one of the most fast-changing industries where accountants can make their mark. Online retail sales are predicted to reach £52.25bn in the UK this year, a 16.2% increase on 2014.

Disruptive technologies are threatening to shake the retail industry to its very foundations. The shift of consumer behaviour from traditional to digital channels combined with show-rooming (using a smartphone to find cheaper prices online compared to in-store), has resulted in many retailers facing declining margins.

As a result, retailers are looking for new ways to monetise their businesses and increase sales. The role that accounting professionals can play in devising clever strategies is important, and demand for qualified employees is therefore high.

4. Online investment startups

Wealth management is a big industry, but it, too, is being transformed by new players.

This is a huge market: Citigroup estimates that assets managed by online wealth management services could reach $5tn over the next decade, as younger investors become more comfortable investing online. Companies such as Nutmegor Money on Toast, which offer online-only, high-end investing services, are currently the leading startups doing this.

The demand for professionals with accounting or finance skills is high in these industries. Who wouldn’t be excited by the prospect of disrupting and transforming the traditional marketplace?

5. Accounting

Your industry does not always spring immediately to mind when thinking about digital disruption, but make no mistake: the profession is now firmly in the 21st century, embracing new technologies to change how things are done.

New market entrants, such as FreeAgentCrunch or KashFlow are challenging existing relationships between professional advisers and small businesses. Their cloud-based services allow SMEs to manage accounts themselves, with less need for a bookkeeper or accountant.

However, your expertise is still valued and these startups are recruiting accounting professionals to monitor, check and advise their clients. These companies are not the enemy: this is the direction that the profession is increasingly heading into, so embrace the change!

What other industries are disrupting the market? And how are accountancy professionals helping transform the business? Discuss your ideas below.

Jason Hesse is a journalist who specialises in writing about entrepreneurship and small business.

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