The Ever Changing Skill Set of Accountants

The accounting industry is reinventing itself. Once considered a staid profession, it is now an industry embracing efficiency, technology and automation. The accountant’s position in the financial sector is altering. They are now positioned as technology savvy, data-enabled, commercially astute professionals, whilst becoming trusted advisors to their clients. 

It is perceived that this change in position is due to the rise in cloud accounting. Cloud accounting is positioning accountants at the forefront of a variety of technologies, empowering them to apply new techniques into their workflows. However, the implementation of these technologies has already occurred, with one third of UK firms now servicing over 80% of their clients with cloud accounting software, according to GoCardless, the UK Online Direct Debit Provider. This modern software tool requires accountants to alter their skill set within the industry, by becoming more client facing, developing a passion for technology and passing on their commercial savviness.

A Historic Skill Set

“Innovation plays a key factor in the role of professional accountants”.

Due to most compliance services provided by accountants now able to be completed by automated services such as the cloud, the skill set associated with accounting professionals has become less and less traditional. This shift has also been pushed by the decline of the audit market, with the number of audit firms in the UK decreasing by 4.6% in 2015.

Empowering for Efficiency

Packages such as Xero, QuickBooks and Sage have meant bookkeeping services have become largely automated, connecting to bank feeds and feeding in live data from client accounts. Apps such as Receipt Bank allow businesses to submit expense claims and receipts directly from their smartphones. By adopting the best practice approach for clients, tailored to their needs, forecasting the cost of servicing clients is made easier for accountants. Many firms are therefore altering their pricing model from billing time to flat monthly fees.

With such an array of technologies at the disposal of accountants, KPIs related to bookkeeping are increasingly based on the use of automation, in comparison to the number of transactions or the number of clients.

Becoming the Advisors

Cloud technologies have meant that that accountants are rebranding themselves as advisors, providing clients with forward looking advice around topics such as finance, growth, and cash flow forecasting. This allows for them to be positioned at the centre of their clients’ business, resulting in a change of mind-set due to them being required to spot commercial opportunities.

Although some may perceive this as a threat, there is a positive perception of these changes. For example it has been indicated that 84% of accounting professionals agree that technology will enable them to focus on higher value work.  

Altering Hiring Techniques

These technological advancements will therefore change the skill set requirements of future trainee accountants. Whilst firms will still hire the traditional trainee accountant, with a strong eye for detail, the need for individuals with a flair for IT and an ability to think strategically will increase.

It is therefore predicted that over the next few years, there will be an increasing need for accountants that acquire the skill set at the intersection of technical ability and software development.

The internet allows people to access technical tax and accounting information when previously they may have asked their accountant. However the “modern” accountant uses his knowledge and experience to advise his client on their particular situation. Something Google for example can’t do – yet!