Talk to anyone in finance and you’ll eventually find yourself talking about how the industry “has changed” and the challenge of staying on top of technology.
The biggest challenge facing accounting firms is that clients, especially on the smaller side of SMEs, have become more tech savvy and have raised expectations about the use and benefits of automation to make them more productive.
These clients have also become more demanding when it comes to expecting accountants to offer certain types of software – whether their accountant uses it as standard or not.
Coupled with this there’s a lot of noise coming from technology companies telling you that you should be ‘integrating this platform or system’, promising that it will make life easier, add more value, save you time and make you money.
All of this creates a lot of confusion and it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the choice of choosing a certain software over another.
Then, after going through the pain of integrating new software, moving clients over and training staff how to use it, everything still seems similar to before for the accounting firm – except now they’re dealing with another new piece of software.
If anything, you feel like you’ve lost some control over your business’ processes and systems, you’ve lost time and money bringing in and training people on new software and – worst of all – the client doesn’t want to pay the extra costs or really use the new technology to its full potential.
When technology hinders rather than helps
The goal of any accountant is to make money being valued by clients and giving them more value and impact on their business.
But it is important that you stay in control rather than letting external factors – like the pressure of keeping up with new technology – dictate the direction of your business.
The mistake many accountants make, is that they give up too much control over what technology or software they use.
When it comes to technology you have to pick and choose your battles and not try and stretch yourself across every platform you come across just because you think it will make you more attractive to a wider base of clients.
If your firm starts to suffer because you’re drowning in accounting software you don’t understand, haven’t integrated properly and your staff can’t use, how can you expect to serve clients properly?
What you should consider is how relevant is a piece of technology for what percentage of your existing clients, and how relevant or beneficial will it be for new clients?
With many clients being more open to engaging with technology themselves, taking advantage of open APIs to add apps and adapt software to their own needs, you should be focussing on the technology that allows you the chance to offer real benefits.
Sometimes disruption is just disruptive
There’s a belief that technology disruption is synonymous with progress.
Today, disruption could just as easily be a negative because businesses become stuck trying to keep up with the latest technology fad and – because they are afraid of making the wrong decision – either don’t move forward at all and get left behind, or end up with something that hinders, rather than helps them.
As an accounting firm, you have to decide what you want for your company and put yourself and your own needs at the front of it.
You can’t be everything to everyone and sometimes taking on more and more software or technology to be seen as “cutting edge” can end up hindering you.
There’s no getting around the fact – thanks to client expectations – that you will have to adapt to a certain level of technology, but the key is to focus on the technology or services you want to offer and to which market and then become experts at that.
The introduction within Xero and QuickBooks of dedicated apps means many small business owners in particular are far better financial managers – so an accounting firm’s job is to find that extra added value rather than trying to offer every bit of technology under the sun.
Choosing the right technology
Ultimately you need to decide what technology you need and understand how it will help you serve clients effectively in a way that suits you – rather than in a way that suits technology companies.
When looking at introducing third party apps into your client offering for instance, you should ask whether the software offers real value to a significant proportion of your clients and can improve theirs and your business.
If it can’t, then introducing it is only going to dilute what you can offer and if anything end up damaging your reputation in the long term. This is when standing still and not diving head first into a tech investment could be the best thing for you to do.
As an accountant your value is linked to the complexity and size of the problems you can solve for your clients.
By going with technology that offers benefits to a larger percentage of your clients and prospects – and not going after everything – you can become more expert and target bigger, higher fee paying clients instead of trying to chase every prospect with an enquiry.
And those bigger, higher fee paying clients are ultimately what every accounting firm is looking for