By Hope Simmons, Chief Operating Officer, ShareFile
Macroeconomic trends are driving rapid transformation in the accounting industry. From remote work to the complex cyber-threat landscape and emerging technological innovations, the industry must forge a path forward amid the change. While there are some roadblocks to tech adoption in this traditionally risk-averse industry, technology can yield significant benefits for accountants, helping streamline workflows, increase productivity, free up time for more value-added work and improve the client experience.
Recent research has found that accountants understand the value of technology, with 69% identifying the lack of suitable, up-to-date technological resources as a major barrier to their success. It’s not a question of if but rather when accounting teams and firms embrace technology to stay competitive.
Here are some tips and considerations for leaders looking to adopt new technology to modernize workflows and elevate the client experience.
Assess the Current State
Leaders should reach out to employees and clients to understand their experiences and pain points. It’s easy for leadership to implement technology based on their own perspectives. But they must also get insights from accountants who work with clients every day.
The primary goal should be to identify obstacles, like delayed task completion, that affect desired outcomes. More than half of accountants (56%) say having too many tools that require them to context switch for every task is a recurring problem and slows task completion. Inefficient workflows take time away from more impactful work that would add value for clients, which makes it even more important to understand the technologies that will help deliver those desired outcomes.
Security is also a top concern for individuals working with trusted financial data. According to a Deloitte Center for Controllership poll, 34.5% of executives reported that cyber criminals targeted their organizations’ accounting and financial data. Within that group, 22% experienced at least one such cyber event. Leaders must prioritize time for an honest assessment of these risk areas, including an inventory of document storage, sharing practices, and long-term data security, or they could risk losing credibility and client trust.
Uncover Opportunities to Streamline
When it comes to the daily work of accountants, 70% of them identify the lack of automation as an obstacle to their routine accounting tasks. To help with this, leaders can pinpoint repetitive activities within their firms’ workflows that involve task management, data collection and intake-form handling. Leaders will find that many technology solutions on the market offer built-in features for automation in these areas and can be easily implemented. Other tasks can be customized over time into various additional workflows. Automating these functions frees up time for higher-level services like audit, tax and advisory work, resulting in improved service quality, better customer relationships, on-time deliveries and increased efficiency.
Looking ahead, leaders will increasingly leverage advancements like generative AI to better understand client needs and opportunities. Already, 16% of the accounting industry uses generative AI, primarily for predictive analytics and financial forecasting, but this technology is poised to disrupt the industry. Generative AI and similar innovative technology will soon seamlessly integrate with existing accounting software and systems, making it easier for firms to implement without significant disruptions to workflows.
Overcome Fear of Complexity
The accounting industry tends to be risk averse, which can delay technology adoption. This stems partly from accountants who feel that workflow components should be customized for their organization and clients. Instead, leaders should evaluate if standard workflows provided by technology solutions can meet their organization’s needs. They might be surprised to find that it’s possible. In turn, they can avoid heavy customization and save time and money while speeding adoption.
Part of the tech adoption pushback comes from the complications of adopting technology. Simple and intuitive technology is particularly crucial when considering the expectations of younger, digital-native workers and the ongoing accountant shortage. Potential candidates will demand workflows that are as intuitive as navigating their smartphones. Complex solutions that require extensive training won’t get adopted and, as a result, won’t solve the issues that teams set out to fix. By optimizing processes and embracing these technological advancements, accounting firms can streamline operations and drive greater efficiency across their business.
Enhance Productivity, Performance with Technology
The pace of industry change demands technology adoption for firms to grow and compete. Timing will always be challenging for technology adoption, especially in the accounting field, which often sees surges in activity throughout the year with tax season, quarterly reporting, and more. But there’s no better time than now. Leaders can find user-friendly, secure and efficient solutions that don’t require large-scale custom implementations and won’t overwhelm their workforces. With the right approach, technology can become an invisible asset that enhances productivity and performance.
Hope Simmons is the COO at ShareFile, a business unit of Cloud Software Group. A self-taught developer, problem-solver and transformational leader, she is focused on transforming the way we do business to make it easier and more enjoyable for customers to do their work.