Interview

19 September 2018

Stop the busy work and go digital The accountancy profession needs to change

With technology, accountants can offer expertise and customised services while streamlining many day-to-day tasks, but they must start on this path today, urges Jarno Van Hurne, Solution Marketing Director at Exact Software Netherland BV.

Today’s accountants are still engaging in manual tasks, namely by contracting out their services to companies to do or check the books and offer advice, but, he asks: “What happens when these hours disappear?”

He strongly believes we’ll see accounting evolve into a type of background service, and sooner rather than later: “You will see accountancy firms embracing the digital and getting rid of manual accounting in the next two years.”

But this change clearly brings an opportunity in Jarno’s view: “A set of value-added consultancy services will be the growth area: helping clients understand their figures, providing guidance to help them make better business decisions and of course doing the checks and balances.”

Tomorrow’s ‘Accountant Superhero’ will add value

Continuing this current trend, Jarno sees the ‘accountant superhero’ 10 years from now as the external CFO for SMEs, offering a broader spectrum of value-added, affordable advisory services:

“They will provide advice and guidance from their reading and interpretation of the automatically inputted data, helping clients make better business decisions in the areas of tax, financing, mergers and acquisitions, as well as investments. This advice will be enriched by the accountant’s knowledge and understanding of the whole sector drawn from overseeing multiple companies.”

An evolving business needs evolving skills

So which new skills will tomorrow’s accountant superhero need?

Jarno highlights three essential areas that he believes accountants have to strengthen with training:

  • Explaining and interpreting data – Really make sense of the numbers, we should not simply say ‘your revenue is X’, but explain what this means, and use our interpretation to describe the client’s ideal growth path. Accountants should not just describe, but also predict.
  • Interpersonal skills – Unlike working in your office and then submitting a report to the client, we will have to truly engage with the client, be a true business partner. This requires collaboration, discussion and, indeed also influencing.”
  • Industry knowledge – Knowing the client’s industry, trends and challenges and how changes might impact those, and knowledge about key processes in specific industries, to truly become a business advisor.

Practical steps towards creating new value

Which specific aspects of digitalisation can accountants start using today to unlock the opportunity it represents?

Well, Jarno sees three really promising, actionable developments:

  • Real-time invoicing – clients send invoices and also share them with their accountant automatically. This data gets processed without any manual intervention.
  • Real-time banking – we still have a lot of manual interventions before a bank payment gets made, e.g. inputting, checking and matching. This manual work can be made real-time and is already being done in some areas.
  • Machine-learning – If we have all our data digitally then we can start working with it, using machine learning to automatically mine the data for us, something that is ever more widely being used today.”

If you’re looking to make digitalisation work for you, Jarno’s advice is clear: “Start with digitalisation, specifically automation. Start small but start now”.

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