Years ago, if you’re an accountant, you’d probably get away with helping your clients register a company, setting up an excel sheet for your client, reconciling their accounts and filing taxes. After all, that’s the layperson’s understanding of accountancy.
So when software companies such as Xero came into the picture and took away the mundane accounting tasks, businesses wonder why they are still engaging accountants.
So when software companies such as Xero came into the picture and took away the mundane accounting tasks, businesses wonder why they are still engaging accountants. Naturally, accountants everywhere felt that their livelihoods are threatened. Perhaps subconsciously they, too, think that their job is all about numbers and mundane tasks.
But not all accountants are dreading this technological shift.
At the Xero x SBO fireside chat, Viraj Saman Kumara, the partner of IBT Consultants (based in Sri Lanka and Maldives), revealed that he started his practice entirely on the cloud, and that has helped him pull in customers right from the beginning.
Viraj: Because they are in tune with technology, it’s easy to win [young business owners] over.
“I was able to attract more clients, especially the younger crowd. That’s why I decided to focus on that segment. Even if I’m talking to the business owner, I’ll ask to speak to the sons or daughters. Because they are in tune with technology, it’s easy to win them over,” he said.
Viraj also noted how cloud adoption allowed him to pay more attention to the growth of his business, “Frankly, most of the things that we do are routine. Cloud software is capable of helping us with that. This frees up more time for us to plan, develop and diversify our business.”
Rovelyn Olaya, the owner of RQ Olaya Accounting Service (based in the Philippines), saw her business picking up after transitioning to cloud accounting. Instead of viewing it as a threat, she sees a future where Artificial Intelligence (AI) powers the accounting industry as favourable, “It’s an opportunity. Previously, I constantly worry about manpower, but with automation, I free up more time to plan my practice and achieve a lot more.”
Rovelyn: [AI is] an opportunity.
Governments pushing for digitisation
Whether accountants like it or not, cloud accounting is going to be more widespread.
Kevin Fitzgerald, Xero’s managing director for Asia, highlighted the digital push in the accounting industry by governments all over the world.
“The UK government has decided to accelerate the adoption of cloud accounting and has introduced Making Tax Digital (MTD). This programme forces SMEs to adopt cloud accounting,” he said, “And because of that mandate, Xero onboarded 151,000 SMEs in the UK.”
Kevin: Here in Singapore, we’re discussing with the government how we can make [tax digital]
“Australia and New Zealand have started digitising the tax system. Here in Singapore, we’re discussing with the government how we can make it happen,” he added.
But why are governments backing this digitisation initiative?
The UK government has the answer. It says that the MTD is “a key part of the government’s plans to make it easier for individuals and businesses to get their tax right and keep on top of their affairs.”
Accountants, start looking at your role differently
With AI set to take over mundane tasks and governments catalysing the digital shift, accountants need to rethink their role or risk being displaced.
#1 Think of yourself as a business advisor
Rovelyn: Clients will expect accountants to play a bigger role as a business advisor.
Part of an accountant’s job is to provide business advice based on the financial reports that they painstakingly generate. But with technology simplifying accounting, some clients are taking it upon themselves to perform simple tasks such as data entry and reconciliation. Accountants will have to put more emphasis on advisory work.
“Eventually, the clerical aspect of accounting will be replaced by AI. Clients will expect accountants to play a bigger role as a business advisor,” Rovelyn warned.
#2 Be a teacher
Accountants will also have to help their clients move to the cloud and teach them how to maximise the technology’s potential.
“Assess the needs of your clients and educate them. They will become more receptive of cloud accounting,” Rovelyn advised.
#3 Upgrade yourself
Kevin: You should be thinking about the other things that you can learn that complements your practice, such as legislative matters and getting up to date with technology.
In order to be a more effective business advisor and a teacher to their client, Kevin thinks that accountants need to continually upgrade themselves.
“When you start on this professional journey, your education shouldn’t stop when your exams stop. You should be thinking about the other things that you can learn that complements your practice, such as legislative matters and getting up to date with technology.”
#4 Empower your staff
Kevin also emphasised that accounting firms are businesses too, and accountants running their own practices are also prone to be overly fixated on costs.
“Some of them are concerned about what their staff is doing but don’t give them enough time to learn. The staff is also more concerned about filling out their timesheet every 15 minutes. It’s a vicious cycle. But employees need that support,” he added.
Move on, move up (to the cloud)
Kevin: The most successful businesses are open-minded and willing to take a leap of faith.
Kevin observed that the most successful Xero partners and their clients are those that are “open-minded and willing to take a leap of faith.”
As we see it, given how accounting technology has evolved and a monumental growth momentum that is accelerated by some government’s active push, moving to cloud accounting is becoming less of a leap and more of a step.
Are you willing to take that step up to the cloud and change what you actually do?
The Xero x SBO fireside chat was organised in partnership with Xero, a global small business platform that is making cloud accounting more intuitive and affordable for SMEs and startups. View the full fireside chat session here.
Quotes are not verbatim and have been edited for clarity.
Featured image by Larry Washburn
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