Digital transformation is the new necessity – and a big opportunity

The coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown is forcing the pace of technological change. Will Farnell, author of The Digital Firm, argues it could be the making of accountants.

Like many accountants, I and my team at Farnell Clarke have been frantically fielding calls from our clients in the last few days.

At the same time, we’ve been trying to keep up with – and interpret – the raft of support announced by the Government.

But, in my business, we are fortunate. 

Building agility

We have spent a number of years at Farnell Clarke ensuring we are fully utilising technology, we have built a culture that allows agile working. And these steps have made it ‘relatively’ seamless to switch our business in a time of national crisis.

I have spent the last 24 months or so working to support other accountants to adapt their business to meet shifting client expectation and new social norms. Change is very tough and digital transformation is big change for firms to tackle to transition to being a fully digital firm. To make such change their typically needs to be a big catalyst.

The coronavirus outbreak has forced our hand. 

Digital transformation

Let’s look at some of the things we have had to do. We have switched to remote working; we are having to rely on new technology to enable us to carry on and support our clients. Those that were delivering regular daily or even monthly bookkeeping mean their clients have the data they need to make decisions and more importantly access much-needed government-backed funding.

For many firms the shock of so many clients turning to them for support at once, highlights the value clients see in the relationship and support they seek from their accountants. 

Accountants’ response

It is the time for accountants to show their true colours as the all-round advisor for their clients.  Advisory is not a piece of software it is the ability to support clients in every aspect of their business (and sometimes even personal) life.  This crisis could also be the making of the true accountant client advisor.

All of these are things I have been championing to the profession. 

Think how much easier it would have been to support those businesses in need had we not put MTD on the back burner. 

What is interesting for me is that I believe the catalyst will result in us changing for good.

Status quo may not return

Post-coronavirus many business owners will question the old status quo. 

If we have successfully run businesses remotely, do we really need the large overheads of big offices?  Many will recognise the value of up to date financial information and accessible from anywhere.  We will have eyes opened to the possibilities to trade nationally and internationally as we don’t need to do ‘real’ face to face meetings.

For now, priority number one is to keep us, our families and our teams safe, very very closely followed by seeing our clients through this ‘unprecedented’ and ‘uncertain’ period.

On the other side we can review what we have learnt to tailor what we do and how we do it to meet the needs of the post coronavirus business world.

About the author

Will Farnell is Founder and Director of Farnell Clarke and author of ‘The Digital Firm’, a blueprint for digital change in the accountancy practice sector.

AAT Comment offers news and opinion on the world of business and finance from the Association of Accounting Technicians.

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