Accounting is at a bit of a crossroads. With relevant technology always improving and now even extending into artificial intelligence, a shift in the character of the industry has begun. This isn’t entirely surprising given the nature of the work. Accounting was one of the first areas to be deeply affected by the personal computer and software. The first spreadsheet program, VisiCalc, was a perfect fit – a huge time-saving product. It fundamentally changed the way accountants spent their workday.
As software and tech continues to improve we’re at the point where so much of the traditionally most profitable tasks, if not the reasons for existence, are becoming commodities. This being the case, clients will be thinking more and more of outsourcing accounting to either lower cost businesses with less credentialed people to focus solely on crunching numbers and generating reports whether here or overseas. The industry doesn’t need to do anything quite as cliché as reinventing itself but it does have to re-aim its expertise.and reimagine itself.
Accounting needs to stop acting like a vendor and more like a consultant an advisor, a true partner in the client’s business. Accountants need to truly understand the needs and wants of their clients – the whole picture of their businesses. They need to focus on the think work – analysis and strategy based off that analysis to help chart the overall course for businesses. This is the value add for for accounting going forward. It’s no surprise that more and more accountants are taking seats in the C-level suites. For individual clients this means focusing on areas such as investment management or life insurance.
The cornerstone of this sort of transition are soft skills such as customer service and relationship building. These are things that accountants aren’t necessarily known for or comfortable with. It could be a challenge. But it’s an entirely beatable challenge.
As Russ Alan Prince has written,”There are a number of extremely profitable practices that accounting firms should likely consider. These specialties have certain characteristics including high realization rates, high margins and the fact that they are relationship based. They also are focused on a clientele that can and will pay very well for high-caliber experts and where commoditization is less of an issue.”
If accounting chooses the right path it can be even more profitable and indispensable than it has in the past.