Digital Economy

Stationery in office, with digital tablet and financial data on screen, calculator and note pad in office

by AAT

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Transforming the finance function: the future accountant

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The impact of technology can be seen throughout history – removing some of the more manual, labour-intensive tasks humans used to face to free up time to spend on more interesting activities. We now use our phones to buy goods, carry out admin tasks and communicate almost instantaneously with friends and family across the world.


Automation has often been viewed with suspicion, and while it has meant the death of certain jobs, others have equally flourished. Technology is moving at such a pace that today’s generation of schoolchildren will be working in roles that don’t even exist yet.


The accountancy profession has also benefitted from these technological advancements, with automation enabling accountants to move away from working with paper-based ledgers and storing paper records to working entirely online.


We are now in a new period of rapid growth. The emergence of smartphones and apps in the last decade have enabled basic processes to be carried out anywhere at any time. Receipts can be scanned or sent directly to email, basic bookkeeping carried out through an app and invoices paid on the go.


The automation of basic finance processes is starting to take effect, and this is a trend set to continue. Job roles are already changing, and skillsets are evolving accordingly.


What will the future accountant look like and how will the role develop over time? AAT spoke to more than 250 accountants and bookkeepers, as well as leading experts in the industry, to understand what’s changed so far and how they see the profession developing.


How is technology changing the profession?


Increases in computing power, robust connectivity and advances in data storage and retrieval have resulted in accountants and bookkeepers becoming increasingly comfortable with cloud computing.


Working in the cloud means that, increasingly, much of the day-to-day inputting of data will soon be a thing of the past. Cloud-based booking and accounting software can produce endless performance information. Software is being built with this in as standard and accountants and bookkeepers will be able to make use of its powerful reporting and analytical power.


Accountancy, as a process, will completely change. It will move from being reactive and focused on historical data to advising in real time. Roles will change to become more focused on information, analysis and business advice. Reporting in real time will allow for issues to be identified quickly and reported to the business and/or clients.


This also means expectations of clients and colleagues will change accordingly. Accountants will be expected to work across several programmes and projects and liaise with project managers to help them gauge quickly if they’re on track. They will need to know why the numbers are right and provide those insights to clients and colleagues.


This will be one area where accountants will be able to add real value by becoming the analysts and interpreters of data. The more everything moves to digital, the more they will need to translate information to clients and colleagues. Big data will result in information overload for many managers and directors, but finance professionals will play a valuable role in overseeing and understanding the process.


The future of the finance function


Accountants and bookkeepers are already recognising that change is on the way. Many have moved from their old reactive models of working. The building of automation and artificial intelligence into cloud-based packages will take care of most of the mundane aspects of work, and at the same time harness the power of big data to spot trends, errors and empower finance professionals to advise their clients and employers in real time.


The way accountants will work will change also. There will no longer be the need to be desk-bound, and remote working is now achievable. Working in the cloud means finance professionals can work anywhere with a secure internet connection.


Skillsets will change accordingly too. Accountants and bookkeepers will need to understand and analyse data and think more strategically about how they can enable decisions. This is an exciting time for our industry as finance professionals can recognise how much value they can add to the information that technology will provide.

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