From Bean-Counters to Consultants: Can Tech Make Accountants More Proactive? 

With turbulent times ahead, there has never been a more pressing need for agile accountancy.

Steve Cox, Chief Evangelist at IRIS Software Group, explains how tech can be a lifeline for accountants looking to support businesses through the coming months.

Today’s accountants face a litany of challenges, not least navigating through the COVID-19 crisis and increasingly murky Brexit waters – all while keeping up-to-date with the requisite compliance and legislation changes. Though we now have a much clearer idea of what to expect, unlike in the first months of the pandemic, it’s an understatement to say that a huge degree of uncertainty hangs over businesses – and life in general.

The sudden shift to remote working caused chaos among businesses. Some were not prepared for the immediate digital transition, with many struggling to continue business as usual looking to their accountants to guide them through the uncertainty. Accountancy firms have reacted well to this increase in client demands, and while much advice has been given about compliance, the opportunity to change and become better advisors has been cathartic for the industry. But this begs a new challenge.

Reactive advisory was a necessity when we went into lockdown – no one was prepared for a global pandemic – yet accountants were quick to react to the necessary changes, getting their firms running in the cloud with hosting in the early parts of lockdown. But as we head into the next normal, firms need to be proactive. They need to utilise technology and act on the lessons learnt from the pandemic; delivering the strategic, digital-first advisory service businesses now need.

The changing role of technology in accounting

While no silver bullet, technology has, and will continue to play, a central and evolving role in helping accountants support businesses through these uncertain times and throughout the next normal.

Lockdown proved to be difficult for maintaining human interaction between accountants and their clients – something that’s critical in developing a trusting relationship. But harnessing technology meant accountants could carry on as usual, offering first-class digitally powered advisory – approaching problems or opportunities with digital solutions, using tools such as video conferencing. This meant they could continue building relationships with both new and existing clients.

Technology has, and will continue to play, a central and evolving role in helping accountants support businesses through these uncertain times and throughout the next normal.

COVID-19 has unveiled the accountants who have chosen to embrace new, innovative methods of interacting. Those who are proactively utilising digital assets, and interacting in new ways, are noticing that they are interacting far more with their clients than prior to lockdown – calls would have been over the phone rather than video, and meetings may have been cancelled due to lack of convenience.

What’s more, technology has helped accountants understand ‘the perfect marriage’ between human interaction and valuable data. Using data, accountants can compare client history, by accessing real-time information online. This in turn creates a wealth of business understanding, delivering both short and long-term value to all their clients. But, as the role of technology evolves in the accounting world, so too is mandated financial and administrative processes.

Making Tax Digital (MTD) is part of the government’s plans to make it easier for individuals and businesses to manage their records digitally and subsequently their taxes. While at first glance a minefield for many, MTD is a prime example of how harnessing technology can help accountants and their clients automate compliance. That said, compliance is also the traditional safe zone. With the extension of VAT-registered businesses, mandated to keep VAT records in digital form from April 2022, it is far easier to rely on traditional assurance and compliance services, than to invest in a digital-first advisory.

A digital-first advisory

Our world is transforming into digital-first – businesses have been taken online, with many processes automated to manage the new working style. Further, MTD is a clear example of the UK government now jumping on the digital-first bandwagon.

The government’s plans for an economic recovery – the Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS), the Furlough scheme, Kickstart for young people and even the Eat Out to Help out – caused a stir for how businesses manage their funds. And while all designed to speed up our economic recovery, someone has to pay for the billions of pounds spent so far – the Eat Out to Help Out scheme for example has driven UK inflation to a five-year low.

To pay for this added sum, the UK will most likely see a new tax legislation come into play, so that we can eventually pay off the debt the government has lumped on our economy – with higher rate players paying more. However, with this increase of tax burden, processes need to be streamlined. And this is where MTD steps in.

MTD helps businesses and accountants manage finances efficiently – which right now is vital for survival. Businesses can pay their taxes online – saving time and improving overall business productivity. In turn, businesses now need to work with their accountants and look at their wider business strategy so that it resonates with the new digital compliance. This includes addressing business needs, as well as how they work, employee capacity and all financial outgoings – all of which can be successfully managed through a digital-first advisory approach.

Addressing human business needs

Accountants improve the lives of their clients by addressing human business needs. They are the engines behind their clients’ businesses, and by using technology, can remove cumbersome and time-consuming financial management. However, while accountants have been quick at reacting to addressing these needs, they now need to be proactive and act as a business’s tour guide as we enter the next normal.

The pandemic has created a snapshot of what businesses now need, especially those who relied on old, mandated accounting solutions. Using technology to catch real-time data, accountants can paint a picture of exactly what their clients want and need now and for the future. As experts in their field and the latest legislation changes, accountants are best placed to advise clients on how to navigate these increasingly complex times.

However, every superhero needs a sidekick, and as we enter the next normal, technology will firmly cement itself at accountants’ side. Through automating everyday tasks and processes, accountants will be able to proactively unlock powerful insights into their clients’ businesses; enabling them to move from bean-counter to hero consultant, help clients remain compliant and drive business growth.

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