By Nick Levine Career The changing face of accountants 30 Jan 2017 Being proficient with cloud technologies, customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems is becoming increasingly necessary for a modern accountant. A recent report from Xero , reveals that 83% of accountants believe that understanding technology is as important to their role as understanding accountancy. Sohan Drepaul, a specialist finance recruitment consultant for the technology sector says: “Accountants have to be more IT literate than ever before… A lot of roles that I have worked on have asked for candidates to be proficient with systems such as Microsoft NAV, Excel, Sage, Salesforce and various CRM and ERP systems. In some cases I’ve seen a lot of employers want CFOS, financial controllers or people in head of finance roles who are able to work on being able to implement and integrate these systems into their businesses.” Gabriel Box, Senior Account Manager at Receipt Bank, a receipt scanning software company, believes that these technological changes are placing a greater emphasis on accountants delivering a higher quality client service. “Tools like Receipt Bank are allowing accountants and bookkeepers to make traditionally resource heavy parts of their work more profitable and scalable. With these time savings tools they now have now more time to service clients, which means that client experience is now a key distinguishing factor.” Increasing emphasis on soft skills The traditional image of accountants is one of providing a back office function, with limited social interactions. Chris Conway, Managing Director at Accounts And Legal, a Brighton and London based firm which specialises in entrepreneurial businesses, describes this stereotype as “someone very introverted, sitting in a dark room at their adding machine with a stack of receipts, typing away.” However in reality accounting professionals need to be confident communicators delivering complex information to clients in a timely, accessible way. Conway believes that knowing how and when to communicate to clients is crucial to provide the best service. “For me communication can often be the difference between a good accountant and a bad accountant from a client’s perspective. We have had a number of clients join the firm having received perfectly good advice and products from their previous accountant, but they could never get hold of them to ask a question or the response time was slow if it came at all.” Moving up the value chain Whilst technology has made transactional work less of a burden, this has resulted in accountants offering a more commercial service offering, helping clients and business grow by assisting them with their funding requirements, as well as working with them on how they can scale and grow their companies. Conway says: “Our clients are typically entrepreneurial and looking for support taking their business to the next level, whether that is helping them devise a strategy and turn that into a business plan, or adding numbers to their ideas to identify funding requirements and potential returns.” He also adds that clients are asking accountants for assistance with using technology efficiently in their businesses. Xero’s recent survey indicated that 42% of companys ask their accountant for advice beyond accounting. Tips for becoming a modern accountant Younger accountants and millennials are already likely to be savvy with technology but all accountants should use opportunities within their current roles to get experience with different software and become involved in implementation projects. It is also possible to learn about new technology through self-study by enrolling in MOOCs or improving yours your skills with software you are likely to have on your home computer. Drepaul says “Try to get involved in improving your Excel skills. Learn how to create and modify macros. If you get time try courses involving SAP and ERP system. Try to get involved in as many systems and software as you can and never shy away from them even if you find the technology challenging.” Nick Levine is a chartered accountant and freelance journalist, with a background in fin-tech who has written for Accounting Technician magazine.