The nation, though still reeling from the effects of COVID-19, is starting down the path on the return to normality. We have seen how the pandemic demanded overwhelming changes in all sectors. As we come through the other end, we analyse just how much the role of the accountant has evolved and how important it is to respond to these new changes to accommodate the role’s continuous development.
A redefined role
Many small to medium-sized businesses would not have experienced a financial crisis like the one brought on by COVID-19. Some would have had to reduce business hours, let go of employees, or maybe even close down altogether. Whatever the measure, they will be turning to accountants for business advice and guidance even if it is not traditionally a service that you offer. The role of the accountant has morphed into that of a ‘trusted advisor’ – gone are the days of the “rear view mirror accountants”, whose task is only to produce end-of-year accounts and tax returns.
In one of our earlier articles, ‘Developing your skills in an AI dominated world’, we talked about the need for accountants to brush up on their soft skills and equip themselves with high levels of empathy, communication, and ethical thinking. Little did we know these skills would be so crucial only months later. Peter Towers from Accountants Daily urges the industry to develop a new focus in response to the unforeseeable recovery time. Clients who are beginning to reopen may find it more challenging resuming business as compared to when they had to shut down. This challenge may spill over to accountants who now must shoulder the responsibility of getting their clients back up and running as seamless as possible.
New world, new trends
Survey findings have shown that 36% of accounting businesses reported their revenue as similar to that of pre-COVID-19 times. However, it can’t just be a simple return to business as usual even if yours was not negatively affected. Accountants need to adapt to the new post-virus environment by implementing practices that will expedite processes, payments, and manage cash flow more effectively.
Mikko Hytonen, the President and CEO of Dooap, states in CPA Practice Advisor that many firms still relying on manual systems are struggling with limited visibility and control over their invoices, unrecorded liabilities and cash flow. These issues may lead to congestion of payments and unpredictable cash flow, which will ultimately affect your business in the long run.
Another issue that finance professionals should bear in mind is fraud. Now that remote working has become an indefinite solution for some people, fraudulent or corrupt behaviour may become even more evident. Based on 2020 survey findings by the Association of Financial Professionals, over 80% of businesses in the United States have experienced fraud in 2019.
In Australia, a survey conducted during COVID-19 by KPMG on ASX200 companies has shown that almost 85% of executives believe their organisation is vulnerable to fraud taking place now. The major factors contributing to the increase in fraudulent activities during COVID-19 were businesses being distracted, not paying attention to controls and widespread remote working. Accounts payable (AP) automation can significantly reduce fraud through automated rules, checks and controls. Furthermore, an automation system provides greater back-end accessibility and comprehensive oversight, both that will help detect and prevent fraud.
The (ever-increasing) need to digitalise
With the evolution of the accountant’s role, comes the call for a digital revolution. A cloud-based document management provider, SmartVault, conducted a study of over 1,000 accounting professionals globally during the COVID-19 crisis to measure the impact of the virus on the accounting industry. Their findings demonstrate that the need for online systems is more important than ever:
- Over 60% of accounting firms that are using cloud-based technology felt like they were responding successfully to COVID-19
- Firms that have at least one cloud system in place are coping better than those that do not use any cloud systems
- Those who feel their firms aren’t faring too well are putting in the effort to implement new technology that will enable them to retrieve data quickly and remotely
With the business world operating around the clock, accountants should be aware that they need systems that will allow them to connect with their clients 24/7. One of the ways to go about this is to have a proper IT infrastructure in place. According to Prism, the streamlining of these fragmented environments through the right IT system will help deliver an enhanced client experience across multiple platforms to customers and staff alike. In addition to that advantage, migrating to a cloud-based system contributes to better employee work productivity and more profitable relationships between your business and clients.
FlexiFund It is the solution your business needs to keep up with the times by establishing your very own in-house fee funding model. Get in touch to find out more about FlexiFund It’s Fee Funding software – a cloud-based, easy-to-use solution developed to help you retain customers, improve your service, and grow your client base.