For a long time, the popular perception of accountants has been that they’re number-crunching, bean-counting robots – there to perform a function and undertake a task, not to provide insights or counsel to the business. Their duties are process-based: they review, rather than analyse; they compute rather than contemplate; and because of these tendencies, they are essentially interchangeable.

This perception isn’t accurate: a qualified, experienced, strategically-minded accountant can be a great asset to a business. But the true purpose of their role was long ago buried beneath repetitive, transactional work.

Luckily for them and the businesses they serve, that’s going to change.

The role of the accountant undergoing change

Partly this is due to a growing belief among accountants that their role should mean more than mere compliance. Research from Xero demonstrates that some 42% of South African accountants think they’ll need management consultancy skills to be successful by 2025. Additionally 35% think the same of business management skills, and 28% believe they should act as strategists for growth. In their minds, their role should be far more dynamic than it presently is.

It’s worth mentioning that many in the SME community agree: some 65% of SME owners treat accountants as trusted business advisors, and 56% have asked them for advice on non-financial matters. Nobody wants to pay an accountant for what often amounts to manual work.

Technology and accounting

Both accountants and business owners are right about the changing role of accountants– and technology will realise this vision. Accountants recognise this. The research also indicates that 64% of those surveyed rank being able to offer a broader service as the most important benefit of technology in finance. Some 59% think that having more time to offer consultancy is the chief advantage of these new tools.

It’s easy to see why. Technology can automate some of the more frustrating aspects of daily life as an accountant. Things like reviewing bookkeeper data, poring over receipts, and completing mundane, process-based work will be replaced by the mere press of a button. This frees up time for the accountant to focus on what ought to be the meat of their job; strategy – financial and otherwise.

Indeed, technology may completely change working patterns for accountants. When these professionals don’t have to scan invoices manually, or when they can find and recode transaction lines easily using software, they can effectively provide services on-demand – at once limiting the time they spend on their clients and maximising the way they use it.

The accountants of the future (and the future of accounting)

Most importantly, accountants are well-placed to deliver these benefits. Some 73% believe their firm can already provide management consultancy services. A further 47% believe they already act as strategists for growth. Couple this capability with their willingness to upskill and increase their value to their clients, and these professionals can be a real asset to South Africa’s business community.

It falls on these professionals and the businesses they serve to bring this broader, more versatile idea of their capabilities to fruition. If accountants become advisors to their clients instead of bean counters, both will benefit.

For more insight into the future of the South African accounting sector, download the Xero State of Accounts report now.


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