Technology is advancing at a rapid pace and sweeping change through every profession; just like any other industry, the accounting sector is not immune and has much to benefit. The changes are exciting and all-encompassing—but they are also unsettling. In five years’ time the role of the accountant is likely to be very different to what it is today.
Historically, the accountant’s main role in small business accounting has been to ensure that small business owners comply with their tax obligations and once a year they would be tasked with reconciling their client’s books. This isn’t why many accountants entered the profession, but it is where most end up spending their time.
With the advent of online accounting systems, manual data entry has become increasingly redundant as bank transactions, receipts and invoices are automatically entered, coded and filed; rekeying data between business and practice systems is redundant and access to source documents is automatic. With this change, accountants and their clients are now able to keep track of every transaction the business does as it happens, rather than having to wait for the end of the financial year to get a true picture of how the business is performing.
The proliferation of mobile devices is also a significant change. Mobility enables better collaboration between an accountant and their client, with standard documents able to be created, signed off and filed via a smartphone. This has removed the need to book appointments to meet over tedious tasks that can now be handled on the go.
Another key development in the technology space is the opening up of government systems enabled by the introduction of APIs (Application Programme Interfaces—a technical set of instructions which enable systems to talk to each other). The advantage of an API is that information (data and software processes) can be automatically accessed securely and accurately. The easier the interface between the government’s and the accountant’s systems, the less work required to ensure SMEs meet their compliance obligations.
So with a drastic reduction in the overhead of compliance accounting, what will the role of the small business accountant become?
It’s my view that accountants will always play a pivotal role in the life of a successful SME. Rather than be concerned by the changes brought about by technology, forward-thinking accountants are likely to be embracing them.
Instead of focusing their efforts on the historical performance of the business to ensure their client meets his or her obligations, accountants can now look forwards. With a real-time view of the SME’s accounts, they can provide insight and advice to help business owners make better strategic decisions. For many years our surveys have told us accountants are the most trusted adviser a business owner has—we now have the tools to really take advantage of that privileged position.
Accountants are increasingly providing forecasts for their clients and working with them throughout the year to help them achieve their goals. Further technology advancements could significantly improve their insights and help secure the role of a key consultant to the business. One such advancement could be the introduction of ‘tripwire’-style alerts that would be set to notify the accountant immediately when business goals are not being achieved.
A successful accountant will also offer advice on the number of challenges that face the SME operator, such as cashflow forecasting, HR best practice and debt optimisation.
Essentially the accountant who is mentor and coach has the SME’s back and will play a crucial part in helping to drive the business forward.
In my opinion, that is a more exciting and fulfilling role for the small business accountant and will become an increasing reality as the profession evolves through technology. Unshackled from the continual burden of intensive compliance work, accountants will be free to spend more of their time as the SME’s trusted business advisor.
Tim Reed is the chief executive of MYOB, Australia’s leading business solutions provider. At the Accountants Technology Showcase Australia in Melbourne today, he announced the company’s intentions to take their flagship accounting practice solutions Accountants Office and Accountants Enterprise online.