How has technology changed the role of the accountant?
If you think about the traditional role of the accountant, it’s been to meet the compliance requirements for their clients, to add value by helping businesses grow and be successful and help individuals better manage their finances. Has the role changed? I don’t think so, but I think technology is making it easier and faster for them to deliver that traditional work so they can then do more. We are seeing the likes of BankLink and the automated processing that has enabled accountants to process compliance requirements faster. We are seeing the value-add tools such as Profit Optimiser enable accountants to provide more insight into businesses. I think technology enables accountants to do their job more effectively. That’s probably at the heart of it.
How has cloud-based technology affected accountants’ client relationships?
The cloud enables an accountant to engage with their client on a more regular basis than they may have in the past, when many client engagements were often only for year-end work. Through the common ledger and through the cloud, the accountant is able to access the SME's books or their online accounting files on a more regular, maybe monthly, basis and they’re able to review the files and clean up any journal entries that need to be posted. This means they’re actually engaging on a monthly basis now and then at the end of the year, when they come to do their year-end work, the file is in a healthy position to just start on the year-end work and they don’t have to do the clean-up work that happens through the year when they’re not seeing the file monthly. Given this, I think there is a fundamental shift in the relationship that exists between the accountant and the SME so it can be far more regular and in doing so they are becoming far more efficient and can start to add more value in the process.
Does this increased efficiency mean accountants can now offer more to their clients?
I think that it is a business strategy decision as to where different firms want to expand – some push down into the business consulting, some push into the superannuation space, some push into financial planning, some may even want to just expand the amount of compliance work they do, and that is a business strategy decision that each firm or partner needs to make.
What is going to be the next major development in accounting technology?
While online collaboration tools connecting SMEs into the accounting workflow are going to make a massive difference, there is still such a long way to go in moving accountants' clients to the cloud for their online accounting that it is still the biggest opportunity for accountants today.
There is still only a relatively small percentage of SMEs who have moved to accounting so the most present opportunity and the one that will have the biggest impact, is the migration of SMEs to online accounting. It will drive efficiency, it will drive collaboration so when you say the next big thing, I think that the current big thing is actually still the main focus.