Upskilling your practice for the new new normal in accountancy
Tax & Accounting09 September, 2020

Upskilling your practice for the new new normal in accountancy

Firms already on the path to digitalisation will have seen this period of prolonged remote working and online collaboration as justification for their continued investment in technology. For those pioneering firms that see technology as an enabler for the growth of their practice, it is very much a key factor in their ability to not only survive, but to thrive in a post-COVID world.

With so much reliance on technology, where does that leave the humble accountant? What now for your team of technical experts who have perhaps delivered services in the same way for many years? Whilst automation is expected to change 50% of accountancy and finance related jobs, the World Economic Forum estimates that it is not expected to eliminate more than 5% of them.

Accountants, as any tax professional will attest, are incredibly resilient and adaptive to change. They are poised for growth if they can take the opportunities that will present themselves over the coming years. One way to prepare for this opportunity is to build a practice ripe for technology to work with skilled professionals in your practice.

Upskilling your practice to work hand in hand with the technology to provide an efficient practice that keeps up with the remote working regulations changes, changing client expectations. Beyond building a competitive customer experience, you will need to build a practice that keeps up with the changing expectations of individuals in the workplace, shifting social norms and values, and new types and levels of connectivity and demographics.

Learning from past economic downturns

In the early 1990s many practices understandably put recruitment on hold throughout the recession, with many cancelling graduate recruitment programs. A necessary move for cashflow perhaps, but within a few years this created a sizeable skills gap. There was a distinct shortage of part-qualified and semi-senior candidates coming through the ranks and it is very expensive to have fully qualified staff doing the work of part-qualifieds and semi-seniors.

Firms with a little more agility were able to cherry pick the best candidates during the recession and were primed for growth in the period of economic recovery. The same pattern today. The firms that are able to adapt quickly and repurpose their business for the changing times are able to keep their existing talent and attract the best of the rest.

Learning to work with automation

The synergy of accountant and machine can open doors to higher-value work, making practices more efficient, more productive, more interesting, and ultimately more meaningful. Automating routine tasks frees up time for your team to do more of what your client’s value most – providing insight and supporting their business ambitions.

Having the desire to work digitally creates momentum. Prioritise data analysis over data entry and valuable conversations with your clients will follow. Even with automation, the business of accountancy is still all about relationships.

Recruiting for change

Change inevitably impacts greatest on your people. Ensuring they have the skills to operate effectively in a new and uncertain landscape is always difficult. The soft skills of yesterday will become the essential skills of tomorrow. Until now you may have been recruiting people with great inter-personal skills, who quickly make people feel at ease in their company, who make great use of body language and can build rapport effortlessly. Are those people able to manage relationships as effectively over a video call as they are in person? If they aren’t, they will certainly need to.

Recruiting people who have a clear aptitude for change, a passion for new technology and the people skills needed to build strong connections with clients will be paramount. In addition to the expertise needed, these tech-loving accountants with the know-how in the profession and a passion for new ideas and innovative tech solutions will be keen drivers in the synergy between man and machine and the growth of advisory services in the business.

Technical proficiency has limited value for those unable to communicate effectively in a language client will understand.

Bring in the new or upskill the old

It’s important to understand the skill set that you've got within your practice today. Have you got the right people with the skills to offer advisory services, work remotely with your clients and meet their ever-changing needs?

If not, is there the potential to upskill your existing team or do you need to bring in new talent? Have you got a team of technologists? This could be an opportunity to recruit people with those skills to enrich your offering to clients.

Investing in people, technology and relationships is ultimately not just a strategy for making it out of an economic downturn but a strategy for riding the economic upturn that inevitably follows.

If you want to learn more, watch Dean Shepherd in an informative webinar where he will continue to share his experiences in practice and the lessons to be learned from history to ensure your practice comes out on top. Click here to watch the webinar.