Accounting firms prepare for the future through updated hiring practices, expanded services and automation
Sage, the market leader in cloud business management solutions, has released its annual Practice of Now research report, revealing a shifting cultural landscape in the accounting sector driven by evolving client demands and the marketplace.
Of the 3,000 accountants surveyed worldwide in 2019, 90% believe there has been a cultural shift in accountancy as it enters the next decade. This shift is driving significant changes in hiring practices, business services and attitudes toward emerging technologies across the globe.
“Accountants around the world are embracing change within the profession, bringing in new skill sets and expanding services to better meet client needs,” said Jennifer Warawa, EVP of Partners, Accountants and Alliances, at Sage. “The future is promising, but there are still challenges ahead and more work to be done in order to build a successful practice for both today and the decade to come. Accountants need to carefully evaluate changes in the workplace, paying close attention to skills, training, technology adoption, changing client expectations and diversity within firms. Innovation in these key areas will power the next generation of accountancy firms.”
“The rise of digital technology and changing client expectations are reshaping the role of accountants throughout Africa,” says Pieter Bensch, Executive Vice-President at Sage Africa & Middle East. “Accountants who are thriving in this landscape have excellent business insight, exceptional stakeholder management skills and a finger on the pulse of technology. We are seeing the rise of a new-age accounting professional, one who works with the organisation as an indispensable strategic partner.”
The Practice of Now reveals that accountants across the world are still facing challenges as a result of ongoing cultural changes within the industry. Key findings include:
An Industry Ready for Change
Amidst this cultural shift, there’s no doubt that meeting client expectations begins with employees. In fact, 82% of accountants said they are considering recruiting from a non-traditional background. Furthermore, 43% of respondents say that new accountants joining the profession should have industry experience outside accounting. The accountancy profession will need to bring in new skill sets and update business processes to meet customer expectations or risk losing out to competing firms.
As skill sets such as technological literacy, relationship building and business advisory become increasingly important, 62% of respondents agree that today’s accounting training programmes will not be enough to run a successful practice by 2030. Training programmes will need updating so that firms can keep pace with innovation and evolving client demands.
A Diverse Workforce for Today – and Tomorrow
With a gulf in the talent required to build a modern, digital firm, what’s needed is a commitment to building a diverse workforce. But this year’s data identifies an underlying issue not yet addressed by many practices. Just 30% of firms say they’re actively seeking to diversify their workforce. Only 28% have a written policy on diversity and inclusion. Even fewer (23%) have offered training or have altered any policies or procedures to promote diversity and inclusion (21%).
Building a Practice Ready for the Next Decade
Accountants can see challenges ahead, and they’re preparing for it. 49% of respondents have formally examined their business practices in the last year, with an additional 26% stating they have formally examined their business practices in the last five years. All signs point to a profession building for the future. Still, accounting and bookkeeping remain the dominant service offering in practices worldwide (79%); however, business advisory services (17%) and outsourced CFO (5%) remain a significant growth opportunity.
As accountants re-evaluate business models, 85% state that the profession in their country needs to pick up the pace of technology-adoption to remain competitive internationally. Over half of respondents (56%) cite increases in productivity as the main benefit of technology adoption, with an additional 27% citing time savings as its main value. Meanwhile, more than half of the respondents look forward to adopting relevant artificial intelligence (AI) applications as available.
The Practice of Now 2019 includes the findings of independent research commissioned by Sage and conducted by Viga, surveying 3,000 accountants from across the globe (US, UK, Canada, Spain, France and Australia) in January 2019.