Accountants have always had a hard time shaking off the stereotype of the introverted number cruncher, however the future of accountancy might change all that. The modern accountant is also a business developer, a human resources adviser and a corporate responsibility leader.
Or at least they should be. With the rapid growth of online accounting software and the changing needs of businesses, clients are demanding more from their accountants than ever before. And if they don’t keep up, they risk becoming extinct, says Anthony Hilton, Evening Standard Financial Editor and keynote speaker at AAT’s FMAAT Premium event last week.
Not just a numbers game
The greatest challenge for the industry is to continue to offer more value to clients, particularly as online solutions such as Xero take over traditional compliance work and clients look to their accountants for specialist advice. “To remain relevant you must evolve or you won’t even make it into the British Museum. The accountant has yet to evolve with the modern culture,” he says. Hilton argues that accountants need to be able to manage and assess the human elements of business to stay relevant, factoring in variables such as the quality of the supply chain, the experience of the workforce and the strength of the organisational culture.
“Traditionally, accounting is a job about numbers but now it is as much to do with intangible things. If accountants are going to continue to be relevant they need to develop these skills,” says Hilton.
Understanding your role in business
Accountants are taking a greater role in shaping corporate responsibility, ethical decision making and business development strategy for their clients. Accountants now also play an integral role in advising on human resource policy particularly with the impact of legislative changes in areas such as auto-enrolment and shared parental leave. The challenge of today’s accountant is to be able to effectively advise her client about how to grow a business, not just fill in a tax return.
Hilton says, “To a small businessman who is struggling to make ends meet, business know-how is more valuable than just doing the books. The accountant has to be much more prepared to have opinions on HR or pensions changes especially given that a lot of that traditional tax stuff has gone – for example in the case of small businesses audits are no longer compulsory.”
That’s not to say that expertise in compliance, reconciliation and VAT is going away, rather clients now expect this as standard. The evolving accountant maintains a solid foundation in his traditional service but actively considers and values the human factor in business for his client. Hilton wants accountants to become invested in business as a whole. “I would like to see accountants becoming more confident and willing to understand or have an input in the incentivisation of management and to become more interested in how people behave.”
Hilton argues that accountants should continue to leverage their greatest strengths, their integrity and professional standards, but develop a consultant-like approach to business. “You need to provide business know-how, that is where the value is.”
Opportunity for professional growth
While this shift may rattle some in the industry, it actually provides an opportunity for accountants to participate in continued professional development, contribute to the reputation of their business and expand into people focused, creative business areas. The shift allows accountants to have an influential role in creating a new type of value for their companies.
Hilton says, “It sounds like a much more interesting way to spend your life than just doing tax and audit.”
[dropshadowbox align=”left”]Three challenges for the accountancy industry
Book keeping and accounting software has traditionally been chained to desk bound devices. Now with cloud based technologies and online accounting solutions, compliance work in particular can be done cheaper, faster and more easily than ever before.
Without the regulatory laws that dictate who may call themselves an accountant and ambiguity among clients about what qualifications, skills and experience an accountant needs, unqualified practitioners can threaten the reputation and value of the industry.
With businesses rapidly moving systems and processes online, cyber crime is a growing threat. While businesses are aware of the need for cyber security, the ICAEW warns that both preventative controls and an investment in training and monitoring of risk are crucial. “While most businesses are concerned about cyber security, it remains to be seen whether it is a high enough priority in most businesses in the absence of stronger commercial or regulatory pressures,” the ICAEW said in its report.[/dropshadowbox]
Anthony Hilton was the key note speaker at last week’s FMAAT Premium event. Visit https://www.aat.org.uk/events to see a calendar of upcoming events.
Dale Rolfe is AAT's Content Manager.