Accountants operate in an increasingly technologically-driven environment. Yet, as Professor Rashied Small, Executive of Education and Training at the South African Institute of Professional Accountants (SAIPA) notes, we’re still applying 2005 skills in a 2020 environment. Avika Ramdhani, Director of Accountants, Partners and Alliances at Sage Africa & Middle East on accounts upskilling with a tech qualification…

Technology presents an opportunity for accountants to diversify their skillsets and add more value to their clients. Knowledge of data analysis, for example, might one day be a non-negotiable skill for accountants who need to meet changing client demands.

In the latest Sage Practice of Now research, most accountants agree that traditional accountancy training is no longer adequate and that technology is driving change in accounting practices. For 56% of respondents, increased productivity enabled by technological advances is the main benefit of technology, and 27% value the time-savings that technology brings to their firms.

Our research also found that 58% of accountants either agree or strongly agree that artificial intelligence (AI) will help to automate tasks and drive business efficiency. Other global studies have found that machine learning, cognitive computing, big data, and high-speed analytics will also have an impact on the industry.

This is not surprising because the accounting profession is often on the forefront when it comes to adopting new technology. The calculator, spreadsheets, and cloud computing are just three examples of technological shifts that the industry easily adapted to.

Clearly, we can no longer think of technology as something separate to how we do our jobs. As accounting and technology become more and more intertwined, accountants need to take steps to stay ahead of the curve.

Here are three ways you can do that.

  1. Embrace it

New technological trends should never catch you off guard, since staying abreast of developments is becoming a professional priority.

Make sure you don’t fall behind by reading articles like this, listening to podcasts and webinars, and reading publications issued by professional organisations like SAIPA. Adopt a continuous learning mindset so that you’re always at the forefront of technology.

To Rashied Small’s point, accountants – and accounting curriculums – have been slow to evolve business and learning models to keep up with technological evolutions. If you want to future-proof your firm, start with rethinking your business models so that you can quickly and easily experiment with and adopt new apps, software, or chatbots as they’re released. Aim to become an early technology adopter rather than taking a wait-and-see approach.

  1. Start with the quick wins

Cloud computing and mobile technology have revolutionised the accounting industry. If you’re not yet using these in your practice, they’re a good – and easy – place to start. Cloud computing is also the foundation on which all future accounting technologies will depend, so the sooner you move your business into the cloud and the sooner you get comfortable with the idea of being able to work from anywhere, at any time, on any device, the better prepared you’ll be for whatever comes next.

Without cloud computing, it will be impossible to embrace AI because this will be the only way to access the massive volumes of information that AI and machine learning need to be effective. If skills like data analysis one day become a prerequisite for all accountants and you haven’t yet converted to cloud technology, this will be very difficult to achieve.

Start with these low-hanging fruits when introducing new technology into your practice. This will make it easier to adapt to technological change and smoothly adopt new solutions, rather than needing to overhaul all your systems and processes at once.

Follow this ABC approach if you haven’t yet converted to cloud computing:

  1. Assign an owner. One person should oversee the rollout and implementation process to ensure a frictionless transition.
  2. Be prepared. Use project management software or Gantt charts to manage the different implementation phases, monitor progress, and flag any issues.
  3. Create touchpoints. Develop a sign-off process that maps each milestone and lists client volumes and the tools you have at your disposal to support your transition to the cloud.
  4. Upskill yourself now

In the Sage Practice of Now 2019 research, 62% of respondents agreed that today’s accounting training programmes will not be enough to run a successful practice by 2030. And 85% believe that the profession needs to pick up the pace of technology adoption to remain competitive internationally.

But accounting is no longer just about having financial acumen and understanding legislation. It’s about understanding how to work with people and how to get the best out of people. It’s about coaching, advisory, and engagement.

If you don’t yet have a formal training and upskilling plan in place for you and your team, consider implementing one as soon as possible. As well as keeping your practice relevant in the digital age, you’ll also attract and retain top talent by offering opportunities for personal development and formal qualifications.

As with all industries, accounting is becoming a predominantly technology-driven profession. Since formal curriculums can’t keep up with the pace of change, it’s up to us to ensure that we never stop learning and never stop experimenting with new tools that reduce our workloads and give us the gift of time to focus on becoming business advisors to our clients.

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