June 19, 2019
Most often when people think of accounting, the image of a hip office with ping pong tables and dog-friendly areas is not what comes to mind. While frequent puppy visits are still not an industry standard (a problem best kept for another article), the accountancy profession is evolving at a rapid pace. Sage’s “Practice of Now 2019” report, which surveyed 3,000 accountants from six countries, paints a picture of a profession evolving from solely valuing “number crunching” as the way to engage clients and placing more emphasis on soft skills and diverse workforces to retain edge.
Times are Changing
There is no getting around it: Numbers are at the heart of accounting. In fact, a vast majority of accountants (71%) see themselves as number crunchers, according to the report. The most commonly reported reasons respondents had for feeling this way was internal resistance to change, as well as the lack of tools and technologies that allow people to focus their development on soft skills and consultation practices.
Why such resistance, when 77% of professionals are “very confident” or “confident” in offering more general business management advice to their clients? Since time is not a luxury that accountants have, lacking the most up-to-date technologies is no longer an option. To illustrate on a macro scale why it is crucial to diversify offerings, only in offering payroll services do American firms meet the average for the six countries surveyed (United States of America, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, France and Spain). If firms want to stay ahead, diversifying and adapting to emerging technologies will separate winning firms from those that get left behind.
From Jacks of All Trades to Masters of One
The proverbial jack of all trades phrase implies not being a true master at any of them. This view may surprise some experts, but its message carries real weight, especially as the accounting industry progresses. For many firms, it will be important to veer from the “all things to all people” way of operating towards industry specialization. While it is of course beneficial, in more ways than one, for firms to have working expertise applicable to a wide range of industries and areas, there is immense value in mastering one. In fact, 49% of US-based CPAs expect their firms to become industry-specialized within the next five years alone.
Catering to one specific industry not only fosters immense professional growth for accountants but can also have a resounding impact on efficiency and revenue stream. When firms choose to specialize, it means they can choose technology, deploy processes and hire and educate staff in manners that cater to one niche, and cater to it intelligently. Customers’, and, importantly, potential customers’, trust will inevitably grow through this modernized approach to specialization; Nothing inspires confidence like knowing your chosen service provider is as in-tune with your industry as you are. It’s in this sweet spot where accounting firms can grow from number crunchers to valued professional advisors.
Molding the Next Generation of Accountants
These transformations won’t take place if the next generation of accountants is not prepared to deliver on evolving needs. With new importance placed on soft skills, 62% of respondents believe current training programs will not be enough to ready them. New demands and expectations require new skill sets and updated business processes. Firms that bury their heads in the sand and continue to rely on legacy education methods and materials will not only risk losing ambitious talent who desire to be with a firm on the cutting edge, but also risk losing out on potential customers who plan to diversify offerings and skillsets in their respective organizations.
Why Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Matters
Modernized businesses on television make casual dress codes, in-house baristas and free massage services look like operation requirements. Those are all fantastic perks if they fit the values of the company’s culture, but they are not the only way to respond to evolving business and employee needs. In fact, the fun perks mean nothing if they are not housed in a company that values diversity and commits to fostering employees of all kinds. Currently, only 30% of accounting firms are actively seeking to diversify their workforce; a mistake not only because diverse company cultures more easily appeal to and retain great talent, but also because diverse people mean diverse skillsets. Firms facing skills gap challenges need to look no further than their diversity and inclusion policies, which only 28% have today.
Ready for the Future, Here Today
Suffice to say, accounting is not the same as it was 20 years ago. Just as any other industry, new trends and best practices slowly ebb and flow through the years. However, in this age of rapidly emerging technologies, the pace of progress is quicker than ever and it’s difficult for firms to evolve at the same speed alongside it. Diversity, more varied responsibilities and the ability to go beyond numbers and specialization will help modern firms looking to compete stay at the forefront of the accountancy profession.
About the Author:
Jennifer has been with Sage for over 11 years and is the Executive Vice President of Partners, Accountants & Alliances. She is based in Sage’s Atlanta office in the US. Before working with Sage, Jennifer owned an accounting and consulting firm in Kelowna, Canada. She is passionate about helping others reach their full potential and outside of work, loves mentoring youth, and is an active foster parent.