Accounting profession risks its future by not keeping on top of tech skills


A new report reveals that habits among chartered accountants have changed since the arrival of cloud software tools, leading to a growing number of professionals to look beyond traditional number crunching services, into data analysis and management consultancy.

Signalling a new era in accounting, the report reveals that significant numbers of accountants think business management, risk analysis and computer science skills will be needed in order to succeed by the year 2026, as automation creates opportunity for technical analysis.

However, the report also highlights that while most accountants recognise the importance of keeping up to date with new technologies, the majority appear to be failing to invest sufficient time in education to enable them and their staff to do so.

Three in four accountants expect proficient knowledge of technology and automation in finance to be crucial to their success within five  years. Furthermore, 22 per cent feel the extent of change will be so great they will need to leave the sector if they don’t adapt to modern methods by the end of the decade. Opportunity remains strong; however, with 60 per cent confident they can adapt to change, as accountants top the list of most trusted advisors for UK SME owners.

The death of the 9-5 and the birth of ‘on demand’ accountants

Key findings in the report include a shift in the traditional ‘9-5’ as cloud technology takes over.

40 per cent of accountants say that technology has made their working day more flexible and 75 per cent believe they would be more successful if they could choose the hours they worked. Nine in 10 accountants believe this increased flexibility to be beneficial to those with commitments outside of work, such as parents. This belief is supported by research from the Centre for Economics and Business Research which found that two thirds of mothers who stay at home with young children would go back to work if flexible hours around childcare were an option.

Della Hudson, Founder of Hudson Business Accountants and Advisors is a working mum and employs eight flexible workers at her firm in Bristol: “Using technology, especially cloud based, allows us to be more flexible over time and place of working. This means that we get to recruit some really high calibre team members who want time with their family or to take more holidays because their kids have grown up. Whatever the reason we find that looking after our team helps them to look after our clients,” comments Della.

Combined with technology enabling ‘anytime, anywhere’ connectivity, the options are continuing to grow for companies to change their working models and end the ‘one size fits all’ approach – increasing productivity at the same time. The report also found that a major factor for SMEs when choosing an accountant today was responsiveness, a benefit that technology brings by giving real-time access to figures and a variety of ways to keep in contact, e.g. through software, email or instant messaging.

A new era of collaboration for SMEs

The report reveals that 16 per cent of small business owners expect to interact with their accountant purely through accounting software in the future, followed by instant messaging and video calls. In fact, only 42 per cent thought they would interact face-to-face at all in the future.

A growing number of small business owners feel the automation of certain tasks will give their accountants the ability to add more value to their businesses, with one in four having asked their accountant for broader business advice at some point.

Although 59 per cent said they did not think they would need an accountant at all in 10 years time, the skills small business owners consider to be most important in a business advisor are trust, attention to detail and technical competence – all key skills for an accountant. As part of the full report, some SME owners admitted to being willing to spend up to £100,000 on management consultancy to save a failing business – an area smart accountants can capitalise on.

Gary Turner, Xero’s UK managing director comments: “As we head into a prolonged period of technological change in the next five years it’s encouraging that many accountants see being tech savvy as a key survival skill. However, the survey also suggests that the profession needs to work harder on investing sufficient time in keeping abreast of emerging technologies, and in more effectively persuading SMEs that a close working relationship with a financial professional will be important in years to come.”