There’s never been a shortage of work for accountants to juggle, but today’s professionals are faced with much larger, structural changes that are redefining how they operate.
From maintaining pace with advances in AI and automation technology, to counteracting the growing the skills gap, coupled with the intense competition for new customers, it is clear that the accounting profession is on the cusp of a sea change.
Many accountants in the field are concerned about the future of their craft– unsure how they will fulfill increasingly complex customer demands and how they will adapt to become a ‘firm of the future.’ For now, when it comes to just exactly how much accountants’ roles will change in the near future, the ‘Magic 8 Ball’ reads: “Reply hazy, try again.”
Here are the steps that firms can take to stay agile, adapt to emerging technologies and thrive moving forward.
1. Prioritize Tech Adoption to Digitize Operations
The right technology will free up huge amounts of time for firms— time that is typically spent on manual tasks and administrative upkeep. This will allow accountants to focus on what really matters: cultivating stronger relationships with their customers and consistently tracking industry trends to keep their services up-to-date.
To develop a technology-first mindset and digitize your firm’s operations, start by evaluating your core services; then you can consider how they can be improved with technology. For example, if employees are dedicating too much time reconciling client accounts– consider automating this task. When inefficiencies are identified, firms can then research the technologies available to them, vet providers, and test new solutions through free trials and pilot programs to find the best solution.
What’s as important as identifying the technology itself, is finding the right person to oversee your firm’s digital transformation. This person should have relevant expertise and a desire to learn more. Make sure that your team leaders can advise on who may be the best fit for the role, otherwise, pursuing a new hire is necessary.
2. Invest in Your Workforce
The team is the key determinant in a company's future success, so it’s crucial that your workforce has the knowledge and tools to take the practice to the next level. To keep your practice competitive, be prepared to invest heavily in the development of your workforce with a strategic talent acquisition and retention plan.
The first step is to understand and meet your team where they are. Try implementing a Culture Assessment Plan, which collects feedback from employees on what in the company needs the most improvement, what matters most to them, and where investment in the workforce should focus.
This type of process will allow firms to get the most out of their employee investment, and cultivate a culture that supports the long-term growth of each and every employee. Insights gathered can be useful in regular training through providers such as AVADO Learning in areas like SOX and CASS compliance.
3. Emphasize Client Experiences
Number crunching will continue to play a large part in accounting, however, accountants’ overall roles are changing to meet new client demands and to stay competitive as an organization. To stand out from the crowd, accountants need to create curated and delightful client experiences. A good first step: shift from the traditional hourly billing models and instead offer clients the option to build a personalized range of services (and pricing choices) that meet their specific needs.
Moreover, firms that don’t already offer services related to ‘management accounting’ or ‘management support’ should certainly start considering it. This means analyzing strategic options, comparing performance against wider industry trends, and conducting risk audits in addition to preparing clients’ accounting information through forecasting and budgeting.
4. Find Your Specialty and Become the Expert
Differentiating your firm is essential to finding and securing new clients and driving long-term profitability in the highly competitive, modern accounting landscape. To begin, firms should seek to better understand the business landscape in which they operate, breaking it into three components: marketplace, clients, and competition.
From there, firms can identify a specific industry (i.e. government, healthcare, or hospitality) or build out a new service using the help of someone with a strong skill set in that niche area of technology. If businesses should choose the road less traveled, and build a new service, they need select team leaders to own the process and establish a team of people who are passionate about that kind of work to see it through. Whichever firms choose, industry expertise and niche skill sets will attract new clients and secure long term success.
While disruption in the accounting profession may seem intimidating, it comes with vast business opportunity. Leaning into the change and using the steps outlined above will allow firms to adapt to the changing landscape and become indispensable in their field and to the future of accountancy. Onward!