How automation is shaping the role of accountants today

Digitisation plays a significant role in the way we work and do business. From chatbots improving customer service, to cloud-based software that automates business processes like creating invoices and getting paid, generating reports and monitoring performance.

One specific area that has shown tremendous opportunity is how automation is evolving the role of accountants as technology-enabled business advisors, and the role they play in helping clients navigate ongoing challenges.

“One of the key automation benefits of cloud-based accounting software is automated data entry. This means that rather than manually entering data into spreadsheets or ledgers, the software can automatically import data from bank accounts, credit cards, and other financial sources. This saves a lot of time for both the small business owner and the accountant, and it reduces the risk of errors,” says Colin Timmis, Country Manager, Xero South Africa.

From an accountant’s perspective, as more and more compliance tasks are automated, accountants are able to take on more of an advisory role. Supporting this shift, recent research from Xero reveals that 76% of accountants expect to act more as consultants in the future, and 59% believe consultancy skills will be essential by 2025, with just under half (43%) seeing business strategy as a critical future skill.

“Thanks to cloud technology, accountants now have access to financial data from their clients in one place, enabling them to quickly gain valuable insights into how their clients’ businesses are performing.  By having all the data automatically imported into one cloud system, they can help their clients to identify trends, understand cash flow and provide advice to help them make more informed decisions for their business,” adds Timmis.

While automation is replacing certain routine tasks, embracing its full potential presents opportunities for accountants to provide more value-added services.

“From an accounting practice perspective, cloud computing helps us become more proactive and empowers us to provide trusted advice to help our clients achieve their business goals. Technology helps us dig deeper into the financial data and uncover insights that enable more robust conversations and business solutions,” says Nicole Rousseau of PKF Ignite and a member of Xero’s Partner Advisory Council in South Africa.

Xero’s research also revealed that accountants are investing in technology and upskilling staff to ensure they’re keeping up with technology. The research showed that 78% have budget allocated to train their team in technology use and implementation. Over the next 12 months, 66% of accountants plan to invest in upskilling their staff and 61% plan to invest in improving operations with technology.`

“For us to remain relevant as accountants, we always need to be looking at how we can better service our clients. We need to be at the forefront of tech adoption and empower our staff on driving implementation. As technology advances, your skills set and app stack keeps changing due to the client and their needs always evolving,” says Depo Ogunruku from Outsourced Finance.

“At Xero, we have an important role to play in ensuring accountants and bookkeepers have the tools they need to scale, grow and better support small businesses. We introduced direct VAT eFiling last year, and expanded this to payroll tax too by partnering with SimplePay and PaySpace. We’re continuing to build a more connected experience for our accounting partners by partnering with banks, apps and organisations like SARS to reimagine how accountants run their practice,” concludes Timmis.

While automation is replacing certain routine tasks, embracing its full potential presents opportunities for accountants to provide more value-added services that enable them to play a more direct role in strategic decision-making providing advisory support. Accountants who embrace digital technologies, upskill themselves, and adapt to changing roles will be well-positioned to thrive in the digital age.

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