In 2020, companies of all sizes and sectors were forced to dramatically change the way they work.
Inside of a few months, businesses fast-tracked up to four years of digital change by migrating entire workforces online. And this change didn’t just impact the internal organization, a completely remote work scenario also required the nature of client engagements to meaningfully adjust.
Nowhere were these two dynamics more apparent than in the accounting industry, as firms quickly understood that processes and workflows would need to be streamlined if there was any chance to keep up with equally evolving client scenarios.
The answer was technology. Last year, 46.6% of accounting professionals added more than two new solutions to their tech stack, with 11% investing in four or more platforms.
In most cases, this meant replacing manual practices with a suite of integrated and automated tools that enhanced existing enterprise technologies and workflows. Staff was empowered to work smarter and faster, meeting their clients’ ever-changing needs.
While the pandemic may have forced these internal updates, they have also proven to be hugely beneficial. There are several productivity and profit-boosting reasons why over a third of financial services firms have made tech upgrades their top priority in 2021—three of which I explore below.
1. Save time and money through updated technology
No firm’s digital journey is identical to another’s, but an apparent outcome from the “world’s largest unplanned work-from-home experiment” has been the rise of automation technologies.
From data entry to time tracking, the accounting industry was built on individual employees carrying out manual tasks. Particularly during the pandemic, automation has shown its radical ability to standardize, streamline, and speed up any routine or rule-based process, freeing accountants of repetitive and time-consuming tasks.
In fact, WorkMarket’s 2020 In(Sight) Report found that 54% of employees believed they could save a staggering 240 hours annually through automation.
Eliminating redundant tasks to better focus employees’ skills and value has perhaps been most apparent in the realm of document creation and management, especially when so much business is done through documents, be it proposals, engagement letters, statements of work, midpoint review decks, or audit reports.
When navigating disconnected legacy systems and manual solutions, the accounting professionals I speak to always relay the same hurdles to producing consistent and compliant client deliverables. More often than not, they can’t find the correct content, assets, or templates they need—resulting in lengthy creation processes, time loss, issues of noncompliance, and at worst, the risk of expensive and brand-damaging lawsuits.
By arming employees with automation tools such as document creation and template management solutions that give employees everything they need to create personalized, compliant documents within the applications they already use, accountants can save hours each day. For instance, in a study of over 10,000 users, Forrester Research found template management technologies allowed users to create documents 30% faster, reduced IT involvement by up to 95%, and saved managers nearly 4 hours per week on document review.
In an industry where professionalism is a must and the capability to deliver with speed is a business advantage, a shift from scattered, manual workflows and single-solution tools to integrated and automated processes has become essential to thriving in today’s market.
2. Support lasting client relationships with better tech
With 54% of CFOs planning to make remote working a permanent option it’s no surprise that the cloud accounting software market is expected to grow a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.5% until 2025.
For many organizations migrating previously disjointed technologies to a centralized cloud-hosted infrastructure was necessary for survival—employees needed to access data and solutions. However, this shift also resulted in an industry-wide rise of connected ecosystems that are boosting productivity, reducing manual tasks, streamlining workflows, and producing smarter insights.
With faster workflows and fewer manual tasks, the bottom line is that more time is available for higher-value work. Rather than entering data or hunting down information, accounting professionals can switch to a more consultative and strategic role. They can focus their efforts on value-adds such as analysis, forecasting, business development, and building stronger relationships with clients.
Giving accountants the time they need to flex these high-value skills is what’s needed to put you ahead of your competitors. In their paper Finance 2030: Four imperatives for the next decade, McKinsey found that the leaders in today’s financial markets spend 19% more time on value-added activities versus transaction-processing tasks.
Alongside value-adds, another key factor McKinsey identified as a shared trait across all financial leaders was their ability to “reimagine the finance operating model so that it fosters new skills and capabilities.”
So, not only does investing in your tech stack allow staff to carry out higher-value work, but it also gives them the time and opportunities to bring new skills into the business. Upskilling employees could position your firm as an industry differentiator, moving your company into a position to strengthen existing relations or win new business.
3. Attract your future workforce
Keeping your tech stack updated with the latest solutions won’t just serve your existing employees and clients; it will also help attract a new generation of talent entering the workforce.
In the U.S., Gen Z currently makes up a quarter of the population, and by the end of last year, they accounted for roughly 24% of the global workforce. The entry of this new generation into the workplace requires a rethinking of many internal structures or values—starting with technology.
As the first generation to grow up as full digital natives, workplace technology is not an area that future talent is prepared to compromise on. According to a recent study by Dell Technologies, 91% of Gen Z respondents said workplace technology would influence job choice among similar employment offers, and 80% wanted to work with cutting-edge technology in their future careers.
To remain an attractive option for the best global talent, firms need to align with the tech expectations of Gen Z. This mission will mean continued analysis of internal tech stacks, with companies staying committed to delivering solutions that best serve, nurture, and retain future employees.
2020 was undoubtedly a time of unprecedented change, stress, and transformation for the accounting industry. However, for those who used the pandemic as an opportunity to accelerate their digital transformation plans, the future’s looking brighter.
By introducing technologies that augment and enhance workflows, improve output, and empower employees to produce higher-value work, firms are actively future-proofing their standing in the industry.
As advocates for efficiency, accounting firms need to continue to practice what they preach and lead the way for innovation in the workplace with sustained investment in tech stacks that lasts far beyond essential lockdown tools.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.
Delauno Hinson is strategic director at Templafy—a platform for enterprises that improves productivity, compliance and branding in document creation and distribution.
Bloomberg Tax Insights articles are written by experienced practitioners, academics, and policy experts discussing developments and current issues in taxation. To contribute, please contact us at TaxInsights@bloombergindustry.com.