Accountants risk future by not keeping on top of tech skills

An evolving client base demands accountants with the ability to use technology to give advice, a new study reveals.

The arrival of cloud software is causing accountants to develop their tech skills and look beyond traditional number crunching services and into data analysis and management consultancy, according to a new report.

Signalling a new era in accounting, the report from Xero reveals that significant numbers of accountants think business management (48 per cent), risk analysis (43 per cent) and computer science (24 per cent) tech 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 (71 per cent) 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 alearn new tech skills 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 SMB owners (30 per cent).

The death of the 9-5 accountants

Key findings include a shift in the traditional ‘9-5’ as cloud technology takes over, as 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 ten accountants (93 per cent) 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. She thinks that using technology, especially cloud based, allows us to be more flexible over time and place of working.

Hudson says, ‘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.’

The report also finds that a major factor for SMEs when choosing an accountant today was responsiveness (13 per cent), 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 (10 per cent) and video calls (10 per cent). In fact, only 42 per cent think 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 (27 per cent) 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 (55 per cent), attention to detail (47 per cent) and technical competence (31 per cent) – all key skills for an accountant.

As part of the full report, some SME owners admit 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, thinks that it is encouraging that many accountants see gaining tech skills as a key survival skill.

Turner adds, ‘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.’

Further reading on accounting

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Owen Gough

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the Smallbusiness.co.uk and Growthbusiness.co.uk titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the Express.co.uk.

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