The majority (87%) of SMEs prefer to work with accountants who understand technology. This is among the findings from a survey of over 600 South African accountants and SME owners conducted by Xero, in partnership with World Wide Worx.
Most accountants (88%) think that in-depth knowledge of technology and automation will be crucial to the success of the profession within the next three years. Professionals will need to upskill, and 80% of accountants acknowledge that they’ll need some kind of training in the next five years to adapt.
Respondents identified mobile technologies (59%), automation (29%) and AI (22%) as some of the most exciting new innovations, although a worrying 15% did not know enough about any to be intrigued.
Technology has enabled SMEs to automate many of the tasks traditionally performed by accountants, such as data entry and bank statement processing, and as a result 31% of SMEs surveyed do not think they will need an accountant in 10 years’ time.
However, the research identified an opportunity for accountants to remain relevant through offering value-add services such as business consultancy: 23% of SMEs report frequently asking their accountant for non-financial advice, and 27% report doing it more than once. The potential for added value is considered ‘very important’ by 62% when choosing an accountant. As a result, accountants are the most trusted advisor for 65% of SME owners.
Technology will help enable this by increasing flexibility: 59% consider technology to be highly important in terms of freeing up time for consultancy beyond day-to-day numerical work.
Cindy Dibete, Chairperson for the South African Institute of Professional Accountants, comments on the research: “Twenty years ago, at the beginning of my accounting career, we were updating financial records manually on DOS computers. Xero’s research has illustrated that, in 2017, the technological landscape is rather different.
“Although technology poses several challenges for the profession, we shouldn’t panic: accountants aren’t going to become obsolete, and SMEs will still be in need of their services for years to come. What Xero’s research illustrates is a need for a broader realignment of the accounting role: one that focuses on strategic and advisory functions as much as financial management.”
Colin Timmis, Xero’s SA head of accounting, adds, “We are entering a period of rapid technological change within the accountancy profession. From automation to artificial intelligence, accountants are having to upskill and evolve their offering.
“The report has shown that South African accountants are preparing for change, but they need to ensure they’re clued up on the next big tech innovations and affirm their status as the SME owner’s most trusted advisor. If they can do that, the future looks bright, as 42% of accountants peg South Africa as the country to watch for future innovations in the profession.”