James Pinchbeck: Are the days numbered for the stereotypical view of accountants?

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For most, the view of an accountant and their job is that they are conservative, often with their work being solitary, quiet and pre-occupied processing figures and preparing accounts.

Over the next few years, this may be about to change, not least with the role of an accountant in practice and in businesses looking very different to what it has done in the past.

Surely not you may say and why you may ask, but there are a number of reasons why the work of an accountant in the future may be different as well as the type of person who might be an accountant of the future.

Amongst the key drivers for change is undoubtedly the use of technology and the growing provision and use of accounting software and systems.

These replace often the core work of an accountant in the past, that is the inputting and processing of data.

Whilst the use of technology may have only benefited large or more sophisticated organisations previously, the availability of financial and accounting apps and cloud-based software at relatively low costs, now make managing finances more accessible to even the smaller and self-employed businesses.

The double edged sword is the growing use of technology by organisations such as the Revenue and Companies House for filing and managing our affairs.

The introduction of Digital Tax Reporting, starting in 2018, is no doubt being a key driver to the use of accounting software to replace more, now perhaps, redundant paper-based and spreadsheet-driven financial reporting used by clients and some accountants alike.

For accountants in practice, the core of their work is linked to the historical reporting of financial performance, a process which involves a great of deal of looking back. Given the ever increasing speed of change in business there continues to be growing pressure to consider the financial performance, viability and profitability for organisations in the future.

Certainly over the coming years, organisations will no doubt need to consider and address the impact of Brexit on their business, with changes to taxation, trade agreements and other legislation.

This is likely to mean that accountants should perhaps realign their time spent from looking in the past, the here and now, and to the future of their own businesses as well as their clients’.

Those with commercial acumen and the skills to scenario plan will tend to fare better at this, so too will those with the ability to advise on and to communicate change.

Though undoubtedly compliance work is likely to remain at the core of most accountants, perhaps more on a commodity basis. The higher value reward is believed to be around the advisory work undertaken.

With increasing globalisation, even the smallest of accountancy firms can and should expect to see demands from clients looking for international advice, not least around the treatment of taxation.

Such work, along with growing pressures on the need to develop more in-depth specialists and specialisms within the profession, will require accountants and others with the right level of specialist knowledge to advise and the ability to create commercial return for such work.

We could then expect to see more varied and specialist roles within professional firms in the future, with the creation of new roles and new career opportunities.

The accounting profession is not renowned for radical change but certainly the shape of the sector and the work and role of accountants is experiencing silent, if calm, transformation.

Perhaps the days are numbered for the stereotypical view of an accountant.