#AAYP 2013: Better, faster, stronger – accountancy’s future

#AAYP 2013: Better, faster, stronger - accountancy's future

Accountancy firms should act now and embrace technological change, says Reeves partner Michael O'Brien

AS A PARTNER in the business services team of Reeves I have a large number of clients who look to us to provide them with bookkeeping and management accounts on a regular basis. These clients have outsourced their management accounts and bookkeeping functions to us, and like many other accountancy firms, this type of service offering has long been something we have provided to clients, whether they be large or small, based in the UK or abroad.

I believe, though, that with changing technology and the prevalence of cloud computing we will all need to adapt over the coming years especially with relation to outsourced accounting services.

Thankfully, the days when you would get a brown box full of records from clients, who then expect you to transform these into management accounts, are largely over. With most communication now being done via e-mail we find that actually we rarely receive hard copy accounting records from our clients – instead they generally send scanned documents and online bank statements via e-mail.

The world has already moved forward again though, with the growth of cloud-based accounting systems. All the major accounting software houses have cloud-based systems and these offer the users new tools and flexibility that wasn’t previously available on stand-alone systems. For example, many now include the option of having live feeds with your bank so daily transactions can be downloaded automatically.

In addition many also provide suggested postings for these transactions – so if, for example, you have a regular direct debit set up to your telephone provider, then after posting this transaction for the first time to ‘telephone expenses’ or to the telephone company’s supplier account, the system remembers it and suggests that this same transaction gets posted that way in future.

Some also offer the ability to scan or photograph invoices into the system and tag them to the relevant accounts transaction. So if you buy some computer software, rather than keeping the crumpled receipt in your wallet you can take a photo of it on your iPhone and automatically upload it to your cloud accounting system, which then tags it to the transaction when the payment appears on your bank or credit card statement.

With the prevalence of online banking and the reduced use of cheques and cash in much of the business world then we can foresee a time in the not too distant future where cloud accounting systems will post transactions automatically by linking to your online bank.

This automation is obviously great news for the business community and takes away the burden of basic book-keeping for companies. However, what does this mean for us accountants, who many businesses currently look to in order to undertake this bookkeeping process for them?

Well, undoubtedly it will mean that going forward, clients will no longer need us to undertake basic bookkeeping and processing as software will be available that will provide this automatically. This doesn’t necessarily need to be a negative position for us as an industry, though. Clients will still need us – management accounts tell half a story; they will still need us to explain what the numbers mean and also more importantly how we can use this information to help our clients move forward and grow in the future.

This does mean that we will need to ensure our staff have the skills to provide this evolved service going forward, as just processing information will not be good enough in the future – we will need to add value.

Accountancy is a valuable profession that businesses will always need however we always need to be aware of technology and what that could mean to our current service offerings. However, rather than be scared of these changes we need to embrace them and evolve our services and skills to ensure we meet the demands and expectations of our clients.

Michael O’Brien is business services partner at Reeves, and was included Accountancy Age’s ’35 under 35′ report in 2012

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