Technology is transforming the business landscape and turning entire industries on their heads. Few sectors have escaped disruption and the accounting profession is in the midst of redefining not only the services it provides but also the way in which they are delivered. Client expectations are changing and technology presents both challenges and opportunities for public practitioners. What will the firm of the future look like?
This question is explored in depth in a new report from CPA Australia, ‘My Firm. My Future.’. The report draws on insights from its members about the evolving landscape of public practice and builds on the organisation’s prior research into the future of the accounting profession.
Keddie Waller, Head of Public Practice, CPA Australia, says the report aims to provide valuable insights into the ways in which practitioners can rise to the challenge of disruption by using technology as a business enabler.
“Importantly, this report has been prepared through the input of members to help their peers in public practice understand the future challenges and opportunities they need to consider to build a sustainable practice,” she says.
Technology has emerged as a key factor shaping the future of public practice. More than 45 per cent of respondents nominated new technology and digital disruption among their top three business challenges, just ahead of regulatory change.
More than 58 per cent recognise the importance of technology and a further 37 per cent regard it as a critical factor of their practice’s success.
Furthermore, almost 70 per cent of respondents say their clients are expressing increasing demand for technology, such as access to real time data, and more than 83 per cent expect this demand to grow over the next five years. As a result, the successful accounting firm of the future must prepare for the major technological changes expected over the next decade.
While cloud technology and software as a subscription (SaaS) are seen as having the greatest impact on accounting practices in the near future, practitioners also believe that data analytics, automation, such as single-touch payroll (STP), and artificial intelligence (AI) will play a much more significant role in the profession within the next five years.
Shashi Bhushan CPA is already harnessing innovative technology to streamline processes and improve the customer experience at his Melbourne-based practice, Forbes Taxation. Bhushan says his investment in smart technologies two years ago allows him to automate tasks, such as setting up a new company for a client, and reduces the time from an hour to a few minutes.
“As an accountant, you can be doing more value-added things than manual data entry,” says Bhushan, whose proactive approach to technology is highlighted as a case study in the ‘My Firm. My Future.’ report.
“There are also great benefits for clients because our response time is faster and their costs are not going up, because my costs are remaining low.”
Automation is also freeing up more time for Bhushan’s advisory services. “It used to take two hours a week to complete a client’s billing and bank reconciliation, but after creating a program for this, it takes around 3 minutes, so it frees up almost two hours for me to be doing other things for clients.”
Rising to the challenge
Practices are open to embracing the benefits of technology and few expect it to have a negative impact on the profession. However, respondents identified a number of barriers to technology adoption.
These include identifying the most important technology to adopt, client demand, and affordability.
As an example, more than 64 per cent believe that the capability to collect and analyse data will have a positive impact on their practice. While extracting actionable insights from data is still viewed as quite expensive by accounting professionals, they consider it to be a worthwhile investment.
This positive outlook bodes well for the profession and paints a promising picture for the firm of the future.
The opportunities presented by intelligent implementation of technology are both far-reaching and profound. For instance, by automating the lower-value work undertaken by accounting firms, practices are seeing their organisational structure become less complex. This presents opportunities for specialisation, a sharper client focus, and more relevant and timely services.
Successful firms of tomorrow will understand the impact of technology on both employees and clients. They will be ready to capitalise on the disruption that technology inevitably brings.
How are CPA Australia members embracing technology in their practices? View the video for practical insights.
CPA Australia’s ‘My Firm. My Future.’ report identifies the top five ways technology is bringing value to public practice.