The accounting and professional services industries are uniquely positioned as the economy goes digital, while their own sectors are undergoing radical change so too are their clients.
Given the changes facing the accounting industry, the invitation to host last week’s CPA Australia Technology Accounting Forum’s second day in Sydney was a good opportunity to see how the profession and its clients are dealing with these major shifts.
The accounting profession has been one of the big winners of the 20th century’s shift to a services economy. Last week’s story on how the workforce has been changing illustrates this with a chart showing how the occupation has grown over the past 140 years.
In many respects accountants should be well placed to benefit in a data driven economy given the training and skills they possess. The big challenge for existing practitioners is to shift with the times.
The transition from what’s been lucrative work in the past will be a challenge for some in the profession. Many of the manual tasks accountants previously did are now being automated with direct data links increasingly seeing operations like reconciliations and filing financial returns being done in real-time without the need for any human intervention.
In private practice, the shift to cloud computing and direct APIs has stripped out more revenues with useful earners such as selling boxed software petering away as services like Xero and Saasu arrived and established players like Intuit, Sage and MYOB moved to online models.
Shifting to the cloud
That shift has already happened with the presenter in one breakout session asking the audience how many practitioners used exclusively desktop software, purely cloud service or a hybrid of the two. Of the twenty in the room, the vast majority were using a combination with three being purely online and one sole operator still stuck with a desktop system.
For accountants the message from all of the sessions was clear; the future is online and businesses based around paper-based models are doomed. The question though for them is how will they make the transition to being professional advisers.
Strangely, the big challenge for accountants in private practice may be their clients. A number of panel participants pointed out small business owners are slow to adopt new technologies and this holds both them and their service providers back. Divorcing tardy customers may be one of the more difficult tasks facing professional advisors.
The Technology, Accounting and Finance Forum showed the potential for accountants and professional services providers to be the trusted advisors in an online world, the task now is for businesses beyond the accounting profession to learn and understand those tools.