, Regional Director at Sage Middle East, offers suggestions on how accountants can stay relevant in this dynamic digital age and at the same time ensuring strong bonds with their customers.
As digital technologies and new regulations redefine the financial landscape, a new breed of accountants is emerging. Strategic, client-focused, tech-savvy, and gifted with remarkable stakeholder management capabilities; this new generation of financial professionals is creating a niche for themselves as business advisors to companies and clients alike.
Technological developments, from the very first computer-based accounting solution to today’s powerful cloud-based services, have enabled accountants to get more done in less time and to benefit from greater visibility to their clients’ finances.
As the technology revolution gains momentum, trends such as big data, artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, and the Internet of Things (IoT) will have a significant impact on the accounting profession. Labour-intensive and time-consuming services and tasks continue to be automated and delegated to technology.
By automating the mundane tasks, accountants can free up time to focus on things that really matter. The mix of generations – Baby Boomers to Generations X, Y and Z – is dramatically changing the world of work, and the way businesses use technology and new modes of collaboration. Expectations are changing as businesses and clients look to accountants to add value. Keeping up with this trend will require a shift in the traditional culture and mindset of an accounting practice or finance department. It is likely to take time and senior-level buy-in to implement.
Here are some significant considerations to consider when growing customer relationships and future-proofing the role of accountants:
• Client-centric: Instead of only focusing on bookkeeping and audits, accountants today must provide personalized and engaging experiences to clients and internal stakeholders if they are to stay relevant. They must shift from focusing on transactional relationships to building partnerships and becoming strategic business advisors.
• New skills: To build strong synergies with clients, accounting firms and finance departments will require a greater range of skills. They will need to recruit outside of the traditional accountant skillset and competencies, and onboard creative thinkers, tech innovators, project managers, and strong communicators.
• Building trust: Clients’ expectations of their accountants are changing. Accounting and finance department is now tasked with promoting an understanding of the client journey, building trust, and communicating regularly rather than simply focusing on the bottom line and bookkeeping.
• Tailored solutions: Clients today want the flexibility to instantly access the information their accountant holds, and wish to select the services they’ll receive. Having a tiered set of services, for example, and offering high-end business development consulting enables clients to choose a preferred option, leading to more personalized service.
• Essential services delivery: Accounting firms in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution must instill a culture of efficiency and excellence. To do so, they will need to modernize legacy processes, like manual data entry, which are time-consuming and limit accountants from performing their jobs optimally. To truly transform their services, firms must look at the quality of the work and the value derived from it rather than only focusing on the number of hours each project requires.
• Harnessing technology: Today, businesses have instant access to cost-effective, world-class accounting solutions enabling them to manage their finances from anywhere and on any device. Accountants can benefit significantly from upgrading to cloud-based solutions. They are then able to collaborate in real-time with clients on the same software and from any location.
Frequent and rapid change is becoming the new normal for accountants. As with most professions, the individuals who are likely to excel are those able to keep up with technology and market changes, while focusing on building client relationships and experiences. The accountant of the future will embrace technology, innovate, and deliver best-in-class service, becoming an essential business partner rather than merely a service provider.