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Man vs. Machine: How automation can help accountants thrive

In the State of Accounts report released this week, Xero revealed that a huge 83 per cent of accountants believe understanding technology is now just as important to their job as understanding accountancy.

This finding marks a big shift in the way accountants have worked over the past 50 years. Since the earliest accounting technologies, that were first adopted for simple tasks, to today’s sophisticated cloud based technologies that are able to provide an increasingly vital  management canvass for every business. This has freed up valuable time for accountants, who are starting to diversify their service offering and adapt to the changing face of the industry.

We know it’s happening, but just how quickly are accountants adapting to their new roles? Well, according to our research, 71 per cent consider that within 5 years, knowledge of automation in the financial sector will be crucial to their success. This suggests that by 2020, automation will be commonplace in accounting, and a significant number of finance professionals will be using the next level of analytical tools to help them add value to business models across the globe.

Given the speed of this change, it’s crucial accountants (and to some extent small business owners) undertake worthwhile training now to help them get ahead. Our research suggests that under half (48 per cent) of accounting professionals are taking internal courses, and just a quarter (26 per cent) external courses, to ensure they are proficient with new tech including business intelligence (BI) tools. The idea of using complex BI tools can be daunting, but having an idea of how to harness data – especially in a financial context – can revolutionise how a business operates. In fact, a large proportion of UK accountants believe skills risk analysis (43 per cent) and management consultancy (27 per cent) will be required to thrive in the industry beyond 2025 as tech forces change.

Over the next decade, smart accountants looking to expand their service offerings will do well to pay attention to business analytics companies that are growing their data warehousing capabilities. Businesses dealing with large amounts of data will keep investing in BI suites to support their needs, making this an area of technical consultancy that accountants with the right skills can capitalise on.

Extracting data to establish KPIs and analyse business streams is a competitive, but ultimately very lucrative market, one that every accountant with time on their hands would benefit from monitoring.

Gary Turner, UK MD and co-founder of Xero

Image source: Shutterstock/wrangler