Accountants confident about offering wider service desired by clients

87% of accountants surveyed in Sage‘s fourth annual Practice of Now research report said that their clients expect more flexibility and better service without an increase in rates, while 82% agree that clients are demanding more business advice and consultancy services.

In addition, 83% said that they have had to invest more and faster into technology, due to the ongoing effects of digitisation, in order to keep up with the competition.

However, confidence amongst accountants in regards to continuing to innovate in response to shifts in demand during Covid-19 is high; 79% said they are ready to provide additional business management and advisory services, while 75% are confident about offering industry-specific advice, and 73% about technology implementations beyond accounting and finance.

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An overwhelming majority of accountants (91%) expressed belief that new technology can deliver value to their business, while 44% describe themselves as early adopters, a leap of 9% from last year.

When asked about adopting the latest technologies, over half (54%) expressed confidence in the aid of 5G, automation and AI, and 43% said that these kinds of solutions have improved customer service and satisfaction.

“Far from a retraction in the face of a global crisis, we’re seeing a fresh and competitive accountancy industry emerging,” said Chris Downing, director for accountants & bookkeepers at Sage.

“Rather than flexing under the weight of rising client demands and global disruption, firms are embracing new technologies to adapt and thrive. More traditional practices need to keep pace, or could struggle to keep up with client demands in the new normal.

“Ultimately, it’s incumbent on firms to seize the opportunity to become change makers rather than spectators.”

New talent and professions

In addition to the adoption of new technologies, the study from Sage showed that the accountancy sector is needing to take on new talent, as well as allow new professions to emerge, in order to innovate.

Over half (51%) believe accountants joining the industry today need financial business advisory skills, including cashflow and growth modelling, and 82% say they are willing to hire candidates without an accounting background, such as project management or customer services.

84%, meanwhile, agree that prospective younger employees have progressive expectations, attitudes and talents, which force companies to change and innovate accordingly and attract the best employees.

Regional breakdown: UK

Among the 1,000 UK-based accountants surveyed, 83% agree that client requirements are widening, while 85% claim clients expect more flexibility and better service levels without an increase in fees.

However, 80% said that they are confident about delivering business management and advisory services, 75% about delivering industry-specific consultation, and 73% about offering technology implementation advice.

When gauging how UK accountancy firms have maintained strong technological foundations, Sage found that 91% cited making tax digital as beneficial in some way, including offering better compliance (71%), decreased manual data processing (70%), and increased revenue (64%).

“We had three main objectives. The first was to keep all of our staff and family safe, hence why we started remote working before we had to,” said Nicky Larkin, managing director and founder of Goringe Accountants.

“Secondly, we wanted to make sure that all of our clients were OK and that they would be able to survive this, and then thirdly, we had to make sure that the practice comes through successful on the other side.

“We want to come out of this learning positive things from it to make us an even better practice.”

The Practice of Now 2020 from Sage surveyed 3,289 accountants from across the UK, US, Canada, France, Spain, South Africa and Australia.

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Aaron Hurst

Aaron Hurst is Information Age's senior reporter, providing news and features around the hottest trends across the tech industry.

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