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Why practices need to embrace change today to shape the business of tomorrow

By Jennifer Warawa, EVP Partners, Accountants & Alliances at Sage 

Accountancy is a venerable old profession. Since mankind first worked out ­­how to exchange goods and services for small metal discs, the job of bookkeeping has been a central part of every economy – not to mention a source of professional pride. When Roman generals were defeated by their enemies, their accounting scrolls were among the first things they saved as they beat their retreat. Accountants have long been the unseen cement keeping the edifice of business together.

Fast forward two millennia and the picture has changed in style but not substance. Accounting still occupies an essential role in the success of businesses of all sizes, helping them to keep control of their finances and ensure that they’re focusing their energies in the right places and for the right reasons. Business leaders of all stripes rely on their accountants to act as a counterweight of good sense and sound practice.

But the old ways are changing. Our global research study, The Practice of Now, lifts the lid on an industry in flux. We already know that technology is changing not just how accountants do their age-old job, but the job itself. Where a few decades ago the role was primarily focused on bookkeeping, balancing incomings and outgoings and making sure the taxman got his fair share, those strict lines are beginning to blur.

In a world where data flows more freely than ever before and accountants have access to information from across the business, accountancy is undergoing a shift of purpose, moving closer to strategic advice and business insight.

The silos are coming down. The numbers with which accountants work are no longer bound to the pages on which they’re written – they’re linked in to a holistic picture of the business as a whole, which gives accountants the chance to widen their scope and increase the value they provide to their clients.

In our ‘experience economy’, where data-driven value-add services based on customer needs are the key to a successful strategy, accountants must be able to keep pace. Their clients are becoming increasingly used to being provided intelligent, personalised services by their professional partners. Everything from supply chain to HR is becoming data-driven, using insights generated by increasingly digitised systems to tailor services to the specific users and customers in question.

The good news is that this is a truly exciting time to be an accountant. Many practices are already making the shift from transactional relationships to strategic partnerships with their clients. There are boundless opportunities for accountants to maximise the value they provide and so increase their market share – and The Practice of Now research will help shape that. Technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning matched with cloud-based accounting software are providing not just a sleeker way to manage the books, but a whole raft of high-value insights that can help drive clients’ businesses to the next level.

The old skills aren’t defunct. Every accountancy should be based on a solid foundation of financial expertise. But that foundation is now ready to be built on. Accountants can use their unique insights into the business’s financial health to provide sound, actionable advice for business leaders on where to invest, when to double down and when to watch and wait. Aided by the advanced technologies now becoming widespread in the industry, there’s a real chance for accountants to push into the next level of partnership with their clients and secure their position as value-add strategic consultants.

Now is the time to embrace the change and get ahead of the curve. Equip yourself with the right tools to provide the strategic service your clients demand, and turn your bookkeeping expertise into board-level business insights.