Guest article by Marnus Broodryk, Shark Tank SA Investor and Xero Gold Partner
The advance of technology has changed the way small and medium sized enterprise (SME) owners view their accountants. Research conducted by Xero and World Wide Worx suggests that the profession’s more laborious and less intellectually taxing (no pun intended) functions are increasingly being handled by technology: 34% of SMEs surveyed suggested that they’re becoming self-sufficient through automation, and 31% don’t believe they’ll need an accountant in ten years’ time.
If you’re an accountant, this may seem alarming. But your role is far from obsolete, and if you make the right adjustments you can survive and thrive in the new, more tech-driven ecosystem.
Compliance is important but there’s a need for added-value services
The best way to do so is to look at what you’re currently doing – and where and how you can make SME-friendly changes.
Compliance-related tasks are still highly important to small businesses. Some 76% of those SMEs surveyed said that compliant and year end accounts and tax returns were very important to their organisations, and 61% said that handling red tape and remaining compliant were also very important.
At the same time, however, SMEs are taking these functions in-house. So if functions that were long seen as critical are being automated, is there any hope for accountants?
Yes – and more than you might think. Overall, 51% of those surveyed claimed that accounting/finance software advice and support were very important.
The future of accountants (and the accountant of the future)
The research suggests that SMEs have great respect for accountants: 65% of SMEs see them as their most trusted business advisers, 23% of SMEs frequently ask them for non-financial advice, and 27% have done so on more than one occasion. This advice was seen as important by 74% of respondents.
Branching outside of your compliant comfort zone should be a priority: 52% of SMEs believe that the role of accountants will change significantly. Becoming business advisors rather than bean counters is an obvious, and profitable, move for industry professionals. Some 62% of SMEs believe that added value is a ‘very important’ consideration when choosing an accountant, and 27% believe it’s ‘important’.
What kind of added value are they looking for? Technological savvy is, unsurprisingly, a major factor: 66% believe that an understanding of accounting software is a crucial skill, and 30% believe that accountants can provide SMEs with more value through these tools. Forecasting is also deemed essential by a large majority: over half (54%) believe it’s ‘very important’, while 31% count it as ‘important’.
Communication is also worth your consideration: SMEs overwhelmingly prefer email: 64% deemed it their channel of choice. However 18% of businesses want to communicate through their accounting software, 12% want to do the same with instant messaging, and 16% like to get some face time in video calls.
Being more responsive can also pay dividends for accountants: 70% of SMEs deem it a deciding factor when choosing who to work with.
Accountants have a pressing need to modernise their processes and their offering. That said, they remain essential to their SME clients. They just need to ensure they stay that way.