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5 Mega trends for Accountants in 2020

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5 Mega trends for Accountants in 2020

By Daniel Richards, Strategic Partnerships Director, MyFirmsApp

As we welcome in the New Year and decade, it’s the perfect time to consider what has worked and what may need to change. According to the Sage ‘Practice of Now’ report 2019, which took in the views of 3,000 accountants, this is exactly what those who took part have been doing. Almost half (49 per cent) say that they have reviewed their own business practices in the last year and are consciously considering how to future proof their firms to make sure they are ready not only for the next year but for the next decade.

Developing an understanding of the trends affecting the accounting profession is important when it comes to putting together a strategic plan and undoubtedly, everyone will have their own ideas about what is set to take major stage in 2020, here are our top five:

1. Digital Revolution

Daniel Richards

Daniel Richards

The increased digitisation of tax, mandated by governments worldwide, has in part contributed to a review of business practices. Legislation that requires businesses to take submit tax returns online is bringing about a sea change in the way accountants interact with their clients.

Practices are having to re-engineer for the digital age and this provides a unique opportunity to help clients navigate their own digital journeys. Giving them their first digital tools and showing them, for example, how to capture expenses on their smartphones and tablets will help position the accountant as more than just a technician and very much, as trusted advisers working at the heart of their clients’’ businesses.

We know that clients are demanding more from their accountants and they expect their advisors to digitally engage with them in the way that they want, need and expect. In a new report by Forrester into the changing preferences of financial consumers, a massive 73 per cent said they believe they should be able to accomplish any financial task on a mobile device and that digital should be ‘woven’ through the entire customer experience

Forward thinking accounting firms globally are responding by employing new technology and implementing a mobile communications platform that provides a central place for all things financial within the accountant’s own App.

All the different systems and apps can be integrated into a single platform and rather than wading through numerous ‘best of breed’ Apps on their mobile devices, clients can save time by accessing their accounts, finance and tax information and systems through the icon for a single App.

Having a bespoke App opens the door to ongoing communication with high value clients that increasingly expect their accountant to meet them where they spend most of their time: on their smartphones and tablets.

2. Cloud

By 2026, the global market for accounting software will have a value of 11.8 billion dollars according to U.S. Accounting Today.

The arrival of cloud computing or cloud accountancy has been hugely transformative in how accountants work on a day to day basis and communicate with their clients.
By allowing accountants to perform accounting tasks from any location as well as the ability to deliver financial information and reports through the cloud there is more time to engage with the client and focus on business strategy instead of getting burdened with detailed processes.

However, it is worth noting that while Cloud may become even more dominant in 2020, desktop and enterprise software will still be used extensively. When QuickBooks online reached 3.6 million subscribers worldwide at the end of 2018, it was revealed that 80% of those online subscribers are first time users for any kind of accounting software. This suggests that users aren’t migrating from desktop to the cloud; they’re starting online.

As we enter 2020, accountants are set to play a pivotal role in introducing businesses to the cloud and those that do will gain the opportunity to advance their roles as trusted, value-added advisors and data analysts.

3. Artificial intelligence

Artificial Intelligence is an exciting prospect for accountants as there is the potential to effectively add a ‘virtual’ member to the team that is available 24/7 to answer multiple questions and carry out simple tasks even when the office is closed. This emerging technology will be used in the day-to-day running of firms allowing complex and repetitive tasks to be automated with AI, machine learning and robotics with extreme accuracy. According to global research by Sage in 2019, 58% of accountancy professionals are expecting to automate tasks using AI solutions within the next three years.

An entirely new generation of Apps can see, hear, speak, understand and interact with the world around them. Being able to add a voice or text chat interface to create bots on mobile devices that can help with basic tasks is set to transform how accountants respond to customer requests and make them more productive.

4. Real-time Connections

In 2020, more accountants will be connecting with their clients in real-time and benefiting from greater security and transparency. Recording transactions that used to take hours or days now take minutes or seconds and if a change is made by one party, everyone with access will be able to see this change as soon as it’s validated.

Employing digital tools such as mileage trackers provides an ideal first step towards engaging clients with digital technology and they keep the accountant and client connected. For example, the tracker will auto-detect a trip using a state-of-the art algorithm so the Accountant’s App on the client’s smartphone tracks in the background meaning there is less chasing for the client’s business mileage when completing the end of year tax return. Details of the trip can be sent to the accountant at the click of a button or as an email attachment, wherever there is an Internet connection.

5. Planet Friendly Approach

The climate is an incredibly hot topic at the moment and papermaking uses a tremendous amount of energy and natural resources. As we start the New Year, there will be an expectation that everyone will need to help meet the steep targets being set and one way is to reduce the ‘paper footprint’.

Despite repeated calls to cut paper usage, we are being told that paper consumption is at an unsustainable level globally having increased year on year and quadrupled over the past 50 years. The burning of trees for energy for pulping is the single biggest source of emissions by the industry (40%) and responsible afforestation globally is essential to meeting new international climate targets.

A thorough review of paper usage will undoubtedly show up areas where a paperless approach can be adopted and reassuringly, new tools, developed specifically for the accountant, can help towards this goal. For example, the signing of tax documents and declarations with digital signatures that can be emailed between the firm and client are not only secure, they speed up approval processes and bring about a closer connection through the sharing of documents in real time. Another way of saving paper includes distributing content, including reminders about tax deadlines and newswires, digitally so that the message appears on the home screen on clients’ smartphones within the accountants’ own branded App.

Looking forward

During the last 20 years technology has accelerated at such a rate and has transformed the accounting profession. And this rate shows no sign of slowing.

Is the profession doing enough to keep up with changing technology? 85 per cent of accountants believe that the profession in their country needs to pick up the pace of technology adoption to remain competitive internationally, the Practice of Now report 2019 reveals.

When asked why firms are lagging, reasons stated include a lack of time and money to invest in digital transformation (13% and 38%, respectively), although 25% of firms state a lack of expertise is holding them back.

The New Year brings with it new opportunities and digitisation is the key trend that will dominate the profession. Accounting firms that are looking for sustainable and long-term success will need to ensure their clients can accomplish any task relating to their finances on a mobile device. A relatively low level of Investment is all that’s required to implement a mobile communications platform that will enhance the client experience by delivering engagement on their smartphones and tablets 24/7. The future is already here, and firms can no longer hold back if they want to remain competitive in the next year and decade.

MyFirmsApp makes accountancy businesses better and helps them grow by ensuring vital communications are seen and competitive advantage and loyalty is maintained through improved engagement and interactions. The global number one provider of bespoke Apps for accountants and bookkeepers used by the industry’s most progressive firms, the company has developed over 1200 Apps for accountants and bookkeepers that are available in 11 countries and are used by over a quarter of a million businesses daily to manage their finances.

Business

How to use data to protect and power your business

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How to use data to protect and power your business 1

By Dave Parker, Group Head of Data Governance, Arrow Global

Employees need to access data to do their jobs. But as data governance professionals, it’s our job to protect it. Therefore, we must perform a fine balancing act to weigh robust data protection against the productivity of workers who need the data to maintain business-as-usual working processes.

Data grows exponentially, and most organisations will admit that they simply don’t know what data they have, where it is, and the controls that exist around it. This creates 2 challenges:

  1. Burgeoning amounts of unstructured data makes the business increasingly vulnerable from external attackers or internal data breaches.
  2. Because data is the key to understanding a customer’s wants and needs, if the business can’t identify its data and unlock its value, it’s at a competitive disadvantage.

As a European investor and alternative asset manager, here at Arrow Global we take care of £50bn of assets and own a data estate exceeding 160TB. How we manage our data is key to our success. We understand the difficulties involved in opening up environments to allow people to work productively, while at the same time locking them down to protect our organisation.

When it comes to analytics, I believe that Arrow is highly proficient because we employ a talented team of data scientists. But even for us, the sheer volume of raw and processed data, that resides in both our structured systems and unstructured data repositories, has the potential to put our business at risk.

We know there’s always more that can be done to strengthen our security posture and ensure regulatory and contractual compliance, while at the same time using our data to drive the business forward.

Data protection isn’t just about compliance

For many organisations, data protection has centred on demonstrating compliance with the GDPR. At Arrow, our efforts have gone one step further to include our contractual exposure.

Being a more mature data organisation, we had previously tried to develop an application in-house to manage our data estate. However, with 160TB across the company in production data alone, we simply couldn’t achieve the scale we needed to handle the sheer volume of data. Of course, the volume is just the start – once you know what data you have, you then need to be able to categorise the data and put it into a structure, so the business can analyse it for a specific use case.

We knew we needed to go to market to find an industrial-strength data discovery product to replace our in-house application. By aligning our choice of product to our overall IT and change strategy, meant that ultimately, we ended up with a far better outcome than we’d anticipated.

Position data as both a risk and an asset

Data touches every part of an organisation, so when it came to building a business case for buying-in a data discovery software platform, we approached it in a way that would speak to different people at the same time. We did this by posing the question:

“What do we want to do with data in a way that is GDPR-compliant, contractually-compliant and enables us to better service our clients?”

These are the black and white tests of data governance – to recognise the importance of securing and protecting data. They’re applied in a way that enables us to commoditise data and use it to drive the business forward, by forcing us to consider how we would use the data – for example, creating value-based pricing for our clients.

In aligning the business case to initiatives that were already priorities within the boardroom, we knew that we’d gain the attention of the senior leadership team and it would be easier to get the buy-in and budget we needed. And in the end, everyone wins – we get what we need to protect the data, and the business gets to distil the data’s value to better meet our customers’ expectations.

Dave Parker

Dave Parker

Get visibility of data at scale

For us, things got really exciting once we were able to see all of our data at scale. We chose Exonar because it allowed us to discover our data in ways that other products couldn’t. And the interface between the user and Exonar meant that everyone – both technical and non-technical users – could understand the technology and the findings it revealed.

When we saw exactly what data was in the estate, where it was and who had access to it, data security became much easier and the risk of data being compromised was dramatically reduced. We can see exactly where the vulnerabilities are and restructure how our data is stored to strengthen security. Then over time, we can use search, workflow and analysis to optimise the infrastructure and continually identify new areas to improve.

Commercialise the data

From a wider-business perspective, once people can see the data, they can start asking “What if…” to query it and distil its value. But it’s more than just the data itself. It’s not uncommon for data relating to the same thing to exist in unconnected systems across the business. For example, customer interactions and incidents or events.

Exonar is capable of joining the dots in disparate data sets. By stitching these data sets together, we can get a better overall view of our customers and use the outcomes to think of new, different or better ways of serving them through enhancing or adapting our offerings.

Why other financial services businesses should also take a smarter approach to data

  1. By changing the way you approach data, you can use it to protect and power your business and the people you serve.
  2. By positioning data as both a risk and an asset, you elevate its position to give it priority in the boardroom. Ultimately, it’s data that helps the business make informed strategic decisions about how to strengthen its competitive advantage.
  3. By gaining visibility of data at scale, you can see exactly what data you have and where it is. This gives the business confidence about the actions needed to ensure it is secured in both a regulatory and contractually compliant way, and that people are doing the right thing with data at all times.
  4. And joining different data sets provides you with a single view of ‘X’ within your data, no matter where it is. Helping to support your wider-business strategy and priorities, it gives you the information you need to secure a business advantage and generate value.
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How business leaders can find the right balance between human and bot when investing in AI

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How business leaders can find the right balance between human and bot when investing in AI 2

By Andrew White is the ANZ Country Manager of business transformation solutions provider, Signavio

The digital world moves quickly. From keeping up with consumer behaviour patterns, to regulation and compliance, the most successful organisations are always on the cutting-edge of technological developments.

However, when it comes to investing in artificial intelligence (AI), a hard and fast strategy does not guarantee a top spot amongst the league of tech greats. Instead, it pays to take a considered approach to balancing reliance on automated processes with a human touch. Why? Because creative and strategic thinkers are the true propellers of innovation; automation is simply the enabler.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) developed the ‘Routine Task Intensity’ (RTI) index as a measure of which processes are likely to benefit most from automation. According to this metric, jobs requiring analytical, strategic, communicational and technical skills score low on the RTI index, while simple, repetitive tasks scored highly.

The lesson for business leaders here is simple; your digital investments are just as important as your stake in talent. When deciding which processes to automate, start simple, and remember to value the skills and potential of your people.

Keep customer-centricity at your core

Customer-centricity means that every business decision, dollar spent and new hire is centred on one question: how does this benefit my customer? Investments in AI are no different. To be truly successful, they must have a customer-focused outcome.

Where companies get this wrong is by implementing cost-saving measures or ‘copy and paste’ software that fails to improve the customer experience – often having the adverse effect.

Take the virtual chat-bot, for example; if implemented poorly, it can send your customers into a frustrating and seemingly infinite cycle of dead-ends. The modern consumer is far too digitally savvy for this shortcut, and will quickly move onto the next merchant offering a more seamless customer service experience.

To guarantee your investments are delighting rather than infuriating your customers, it helps to take an outside-in perspective of your business processes, aided by Customer Journey Mapping (CJM).

Before you commit to digital investments, CJM can trace and map each customer touchpoint, signalling pain points or conversion rates throughout their journey. These data-driven insights lead you to the areas that would benefit the most from automation, instead of implementing a broad band-aid solution.

Avoid the ‘set and forget’ method 

When investing in enterprise-wide AI, the ‘set and forget’ method rarely works. Real transformation requires an ongoing dedication to refining and improving AI-driven processes, as well as adapting them to the evolving needs of your customers. This is the best way to achieve customer loyalty, by proving that your organisation listens to, and understands its users.

A human perspective is invaluable here, paired with process mining – a method that thrives on finding process inefficiencies – to create a consistent feedback loop of improvement.

During periods of uncertainty, customer loyalty is everything, so aim to protect it at all costs.

The power of your people

The rise of automation can be linked to the corporate world’s obsession with speed and efficiency. However, the psychology behind this goes deeper than being the biggest and fastest producer; it’s also about reallocating resources into attracting and retaining the brilliant minds that drive companies into the future.

When communicating digital change, it’s critical to highlight the valuable impact AI has on augmenting jobs; removing the burden of mundane, repetitive tasks and allowing for more strategic skill-sets to shine through. For lower-skilled workers, invest in upskilling or re-education where possible.

Successfully rolling-out digital transformation plans means that every employee across all tiers of your company understands the value of AI. The starting point here is education to achieve buy-in. Change communications must be accessible, constructive and value-focused, supported by key culture influencers who champion automation within teams.

Enterprise-wide buy-in is an important element of refining and improving digital processes, as cross-functional collaboration can offer valuable insights into common pain points or inefficiencies ripe for automation. Supported by process mining, collaboration provides a holistic view of how each investment will impact other processes. There is no point investing in automation that streamlines one process and makes another more people-centric, so be sure to take a balanced approach to your investments.

Remember, AI is not about creating an army of robot workers; it’s about increasing efficiency and productivity so that an organisation, and its people, can work smarter.

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Are you a fighter or a freezer? The 4 “F’s” of Surviving Danger

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Are you a fighter or a freezer? The 4 “F’s” of Surviving Danger 3

By Dr.Roger Firestien, Author of Create In a Flash.

The fight, flight, freeze survival response – or FFF for short – is designed to mobilize our brain and body to fight an enemy, run from a tidal wave or freeze to hide from a predator.

FFF is how humans react when they encounter a dangerous situation. It is a primal response that happens instinctively even before we are able to think about the situation we are confronting.

The FFF alarm causes our brain to focus on negative memories, probably to scan them to avoid repeating dangerous situations and negative outcomes.  We get tunnel vision as our pupils dilate to increase our focus and long-range vision, but as a result we lose our peripheral vision.   

Humans use the FFF response and so do organizations.

When organizations encounter dangerous situations, like, say, trying to survive a global pandemic, they can respond by either fighting the situation, fleeing from the situation, or freezing and waiting for the situation to pass.

I would like to propose a fourth strategy for organizations to deal with a danger like the pandemic. It is the fourth “F.”  The farm response. More on that later.

What kind of organization is yours?

The fighter organizations were the ones that fought the idea of a global pandemic or pushed back against the research that reported how serious the virus was.  Think of the meat processing plants that didn’t provide proper protective gear or the religious organizations that refused to take a break from large services.

The results were catastrophic for the organizations and deadly to the employees and worshippers.

It is pretty easy to identify the fleeing organizations.  You don’t see them anymore.  Unfortunately, this is the organization that just doesn’t have the resources or the energy to fight.  You will recognize them by the “For Rent” signs in the windows of the buildings they used to occupy.

The organizations that freeze  are a little more difficult to identify.  They are still around but are frozen by fear. They are the organizations that, although they are in a position to move forward, are too frightened to take a risk or even look at the periphery of their business. Their tunnel vision blinds them to opportunity.  The freezers hide and wait for the danger to pass.  They are the ones who miss out on possibilities.

For example, if you are in the business of supplying concessions to sporting events, airports and national parks, your business is in deep trouble now. So, what are some ways to keep people buying food and drinks with so many venues closed?

Dr.Roger Firestien

Dr.Roger Firestien

Many national parks are now open and visitors need to eat.  How can you sell food while supporting social distancing? Answer: Sell picnic meals to your patrons.  And, sell a blanket that commemorates the park that diners can spread out and have lunch while social distancing with their families. Then, they’ll keep the blanket that reminds them of their visit to the park.

Sound like a good idea? It sure does. You can keep your park concession business, allow people to social distance and add to your product line with that commemorative blanket. Did the company implement the idea? Unfortunately, they did not. They froze and missed the opportunity.

However, businesses are finding ways to optimize their organization and capture opportunities. They are the farmers. The farmer organizations study the situation, just like farmers study the weather and the land. They look at the resources available to them and get to work.

Farmer organizations pivot and get creative.

Distillers, who before the pandemic, were making vodka, whiskey, gin and other spirits quickly changed their operation from distilling booze to distilling sanitizer.

Telemedicine, which had limited acceptance before the pandemic, almost immediately became the accepted way to deliver care.  Now, the doctor comes to you.

Fitness trainers are conducting their sessions via Zoom or in person outside on sidewalks in front of their gyms so they can social distance.

My favorite ranch, SK Herefords, sells their beef at local farmer’s markets in the Western New York area. This spring when the large packing houses shut down and grocery stores were limiting the amount of beef customers were able to buy, my farmer friends were there at the markets with locally produced farm-raised beef.  Sales soared and demand skyrocketed.

Why? The farmers were ready.  They used their resources and were not afraid to optimize them in a rapidly changing and volatile environment. Farmers live with constantly changing weather conditions and market prices and are accustomed to rapid change.

To operate with constant change, all of us, like farmers, need to be constantly creative.  Phil Keppler, my philosopher farmer friend from SK Herefords says, “Creativity helps you to not look at things as a problem. It’s trying to find the solution – and that’s the exciting thing about it. Things aren’t problems anymore. It’s just difficult situations and you’re trying to find a solution to that situation.”

A good mindset for what our world is experiencing now… it’s a difficult situation and we are creating solutions daily.

Fight, flight, freeze or farm. What kind of organization is yours? And, what can you learn from “the farmers?”

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