The accounting profession is on the same roller coaster of unprecedented levels of change as the rest of the world. We think we are used to change because that is the nature of accounting thanks to the changing landscapes of courts, the business environment, technology and government. Now we are also experiencing a world where books, DVDs, taxis and hotels are being replaced by other alternatives. Banks are experiencing pressures from peer to peer lending and accountants from software which can rapidly provide the same advice that previously only we could. Lawyers are staring down the barrel of intelligent software which can predict court rulings.
What Is Changing For Accountants?
The following five trends are impacting the accounting profession:
- Outsourcing: You know this has a very real impact on the profession when the number one Google hit for this is an advertisement for a company which does nothing other than provide outsourcing for accounting firms. It is a wonderful way to save you time and money, but comes with a range of issues such as the need to check accuracy and the development of the profession.
- Advances In Software And Artificial Intelligence: Accounting and tax research has been done online for some time, but artificial intelligence will only become cleverer at predicting rulings, conducting research and making recommendations. Although it will make our roles much more efficient, it will also come with a whole new set of challenges in how we charge for time and how we ensure the advice we are giving is correct. Advances in software bring with them new and wonderful ways to commit financial fraud, that we as accountants will be expected to detect and advise our clients on as well.
- Social Media: It has now become part of how we market our accounting services, how we recruit and how we conduct research into the people we are recruiting. When it comes to our clients and investments, it may be that social media will reveal more data than any corporate assurance report ever could on a company. It has become so ingrained in some of our lives, that one accountant I know touches her smartphone in the morning to check social media before she says good morning to her partner.
- Regulation: Although it isn’t new in our profession, it would appear that even more regulation may be on the way in the wake of massive tax avoidance, transfer pricing and money laundering as exposed via things such as the Panama papers. Our profession may also be part of enforcing regulations we cannot even envisage yet such as how ethical an organisation is in its behaviour towards the environment or people. We may have to find ways to account for environmental or social impacts of business policies.
- A Multi-Generational Workforce: For the first time in history we now have four generations working side by side in the accounting workspace. We have traditionalists, baby boomers, generation X and generation Y working together. People are now working longer and it means in some situations there is a gap of over 50 years between the youngest and the oldest employees.
- Alternative Billing Models: The traditional billable hours model was not popular with our clients and could even be seen as rewarding inefficiency. New models for billing have arrived and will continue to evolve as the use of artificial intelligence becomes more common in our roles. You will be faced with difficult choices about how much to bill a client when what would previously have taken you 30 hours of detailed research and accounting can now be done in minutes thanks to intelligent software. Clients are also seeking certainty in relation to their accounting fees for the year and in some cases would prefer paying a monthly retainer rather than paying for piecemeal accounting advice.
Greg Hayes from the firm Hayes Knight has recently hit back at all the doom and gloom that accountants are being told about these changes. He is of the belief that while there are government regulators and while there are small businesses, there will always be the need for someone to stand between them. He says that accountants have always been the business owner’s trusted and adviser, and will continue to be, “You can’t automate relationships and you can’t automate trust.”
Interesting Changes That Have Already Happened
What changes have I already seen professionals undertake? Here are some:
- A not for profit family law firm.
- The use of emoticons in all emails by one firm because putting a happy face at the end of an email makes sure the other party knows you aren’t looking to escalate a dispute.
- Networking with other professionals such as lawyers, bankers, financial planners, insurance brokers, health professionals or anyone else who may potentially make referrals to you (and vice versa). This networking is being done not only face to face over coffee, but also via monthly seminars where clients and a range of professionals are invited. In one case, each month three people are invited to make a ten-minute pitch on what they are doing to see if there are avenues for working together with anyone else in the room.
- One firm has a ‘digital festival’ every six months to keep clients up to date on some of the latest technology they could be using in their business and any legal or accounting issues associated with it.
- Apps which help people track what stage their file is at (eg text alert when a tax return is submitted or when monthly expenditure has exceeded budget), when their next meeting is, the government bodies they will need for different issues etc.
- Strategic positioning of accounting offices into non-traditional physical locations such as health or innovation hubs.
How To Mindfully Embrace The Change
As accountants and business advisers, we are traditional and conservative and now we are being asked to embrace some of the biggest changes our profession has seen in years if we are to stay relevant. Change requires energy, motivation and some level of discomfort as we are heading into uncharted waters.
Change can be a good thing. If you are old enough to remember cassette tapes you had to wind with a pencil when they broke, you will know what I am talking about. Have you ever been in a home that was sold? There was a frenzy of cleaning, moving and fixing things you had tolerated for years. The day before the first open home, you step back and look at this sparkling house and wonder why you ever wanted to leave such a lovely place? Your accounting practice could probably benefit from the same treatment. Take this disruption as an opportunity to practice innovation and see new ways of operating which you hadn’t previously paid attention to. You have a golden opportunity to transform the nature of your role from, for example, trusted accountant to strategic business advisor.
Mindfulness asks that you acknowledge and accept the need for change. It is neither good nor bad, it is what it is. The coming changes are inevitable and we can embrace and prepare for them or we can practice denial and play catch up at a later time.
Acceptance requires us to look honestly at where we are and then start gently taking the steps we need to get to where we want to be. Tackling change in one huge leap is overwhelming, but if you can find one small thing at a time to change, you will slowly but surely absorb the changes that are coming. Start with something easy such as meeting or ringing one new contact a week who could be part of your referral network.
Each time you take a step however small towards changing the way your business is done, your brain gives you a squirt of its internal reward drug, dopamine. Each time you take a step towards a goal or cross something off your ‘to do’ list, dopamine is also the reason you get that nice little ‘feel good’. Open a Twitter account and get the feel good. Set up a Facebook page for your business and feel good. Look at ways of expanding your network of referrals and feel good. Start small. Start anywhere and begin embracing the journey of change which is coming our way.
Remember it is neither good nor bad, it is merely an opportunity.