COVID Is Making Accounting’s ‘Unthinkable’ a Priority

A year ago, the accounting and business technology firm Sage confirmed what accountants felt was happening: the nature of the profession was transforming.

Driven by clients, regulatory demands, generational change and the marketplace, accounting was changing, said Sage’s Practice of Now report, from a transactional profession to one focused on partnership and consultancy.

What no one could have foreseen was a pandemic that would force upon firms some of the key changes detailed in the report.

Now, the leader of an accounting and management advisory firm and the CEO of a management technology company have teamed up to describe what a post-COVID accounting practice will look like. Writing in Accounting Today, Steve Templeton and Robert Wells say that what firm leaders “originally thought was unthinkable has made its way onto the partner priority list.”

“Remote workers are here to stay,” they declare. With workers permanently or occasionally working from home, it will trigger a cascade of changes – if it hasn’t already.

Workers will convert the savings in commute time to productive hours. Offices will shrink, while investment in technology will grow. Emerging firm leaders will be those with the technical know-how to match their accounting skills.

Remote working will prompt a rethinking of physical offices. With fewer people in the office, firms could adopt a “hoteling” approach where workspaces are not permanently assigned. Individual offices and cubicles will downsize, saving on space rent and equipment. At the same time, conference rooms will be enlarged for the occasional “all hands” and in-person client meetings.

Technology is front and center in the authors’ discussion, as it is technology that made possible remote work and opened the door to the culture change griping the profession.

Progressive firm leaders will embrace cloud technology and recognize that “data is the new currency,“ the authors insist. “Firms that embrace change will gain control over data and make better, more informed decisions.”

Those that pull together their scattered data “will reduce the need for multiple disparate technology systems.”

Technology to automate routine tasks will reduce errors and improve efficiency, say Templeton and Wells. Smart bots and “digital touchpoints” will give the firm a 24/7 workforce.

As the Practice of Now survey observed in a different context, grasping the cultural changes will be essential for a firm to thrive in the post-COVID economy.

“We need a renewed focus on our culture, our people and their capabilities,” Templeton and Wells say. Agility and adaptability must be baked into the culture to be ready for the next crisis, the next challenge and the competition.

“To survive in this new economy, firm leaders must work with the speed and agility necessary to advance business transformation post-crisis.”

Image by Wynn Pointaux

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