How to become a 21st century accountant

Why desktop is dead and client relationships are king 

Technology has changed the face of accounting and put software centre stage. But the misconception that accountants sit at their desks using complex desktop products to key in data and run their clients accounts from a distance no longer rings true for many practices. 

Desktop is dead and client relationships are king. And this begs an important question: 

“What’s next for accountancy? How will a successful 21st century accountancy firm work?” 

In this blog we’ll highlight the major challenges and opportunities for the profession and how your firm can innovate, evolve and restructure to meet these opportunities. Central to this evolutionary process will be identifying the important priorities for a modern firm. 

Data from over 200 firms polled as part of AccountingWEB’s Practice Excellence Awards suggests that the leading priorities for today’s firms are: 

  1. Face-to-face contact – getting in front of the client and meeting with them in person. 
  2. Telling stories with numbers – using client’s data to explain their business story. 
  3. Asking the right questions – analysing the data and asking questions of your client. 
  4. 24/7 accessibility – providing an instant response, or guidance, even after hours. 
  5. Self-service clients – helping clients to "help themselves" and keeping advice fast. 
  6. Using mobile tools – reaping the benefits of mobile apps and a smartphone to limit the data entry needed for bookkeeping, tax returns and general compliance tasks. 

Step 1. Setting the right practice foundations

Becoming a 21st century accountant starts with a process of reevaluation. The fundamental strategy, practice systems and workflow processes that underpin your practice have to be assessed, reworked and rebuilt – giving you a solid foundation on which to build. 

It’s these solid practice pillars that will support your new goals, your restructured team and your renewed focus on providing top-quality customer service and personal support. 

To set these foundations in stone, there are several key elements to get right:  

  • Review your existing processes – revisit your internal practice procedures, across all lines of service, and carry out a process audit. Look for the inefficiencies, the things you do well and the areas where there’s room for improvement and enhancement. 
  • Systemise your workflows – based on the results of your process audit, systemise your basic financial and compliance processes. Create efficient workflows and ensure you’re tracking the client data needed to offer meaningful value-add services to clients. 
  • Update your software tools – identify your key software needs and build an integrated cloud-based system that will deliver your systemised processes. Cover the accounting basics and make sure you have the analytics, reporting and forecasting tools required. 
  • Define your core offerings – break your services down into basic compliance, day-to-day financial support and high-level advisory work, Reflect this in your business model, your marketing and your choice of fixed price packages for business clients. 
  • Identify the key roles needed in the firm – think about the talent the firm needs and plan out your ideal staffing structure. Reduce your focus on compliance roles (where software can assist) and increase your emphasis on roles that provide customer service. 

Step 2. Delivering the best possible service 

Increasingly, businesses expect their 21st century accountant to deliver more than the basics.  

Tech-savvy start-up owners may want help building their own in-house accounting system, and busy owner-managers may want to outsource all financial work to an external team. But both groups will expect a higher level of advice, whether it’s help with financial management, cash-flow forecasts or tactics for making their business model more productive and profitable.  

Delivering these "value add" elements means upping your client service game – letting clients self-service or outsource at the most basic level, and then offering proactive advice that’s less about historic numbers and more about looking to the company’s financial future. 

Expanding your services in this way will involve some key actions: 

  • Educate and upskill your people – train your staff to become as efficient, tech-savvy and productive as possible. Expand on their software skills and financial know-how, but also increase their customer service and one-to-one people skills in line with this. 
  • Set clear service expectations – communicate the accounting procedures, routines and key expectations of how you will work with clients. Set out your processes in an agreed service line agreement (SLA) and use this as your benchmark for performance. 
  • Measure your performance – track internal workflows to ensure you meet your project deadlines. Measure the firm’s performance and ask for client feedback to ensure you meet the agreed service line agreements. Deliver on those client expectations! 
  • Continually review your software choices – keep on track with software innovations and developments in fintech and practice technology. Use the cloud tools that keep the firm efficient and able to deliver client service that’s of a gold standard. 

Step 3. Building relationships and adding value 

Accountants are the most trusted adviser when it comes to helping businesses drive their growth and make the right business decisions. So it’s important to offer a high-value, virtual FD-level of service that lives up to this expectation – and positions you as a valued professional. 

The key to achieving this position of "trusted adviser" is simple: build meaningful relationships with your clients and get to know their business like the back of your hand. 

Achieving this depth of relationship means putting effort into the right areas: 

  • Increase your client interactions – ensure you have regular touch points with clients, and make this contact frequent, productive and meaningful. It helps to improve communication, understand their business and spot potential issues/opportunities early. 
  • Have more facetime with clients – up the amount of face-to-face contact you have with clients. Online/email contact is fine, but an in-person meeting helps you share regular numbers, discuss their performance and get under the skin of the business. 
  • Offer an outsourced finance function – push clients towards outsourcing their finance function to your firm. It gets you embedded in their business and helps to streamline the client’s processes – which makes it easier to support their financial management. 
  • Become your clients "virtual FD" – offering an FD-level advisory service positions you as a truly valued advisor. When you’re involved in board meetings, you can bring strong and rigorous strategic advice, business planning and forecasting insights to clients. 

Becoming a 21st century accountancy firm 

Combining the three elements of modern accounting together allows you to embrace the ongoing transformation of accounting as an industry, and to evolve into a 21st century practice.  

Transitioning to the cloud is the first step, but the real driver of change is the pressing need for efficient practice systems, improved customer service and deeper client relationships. Get these three core areas done well, and you secure the long-term future of your firm – a future where your clients value your services and see you as their trusted advisers. 

How Capium helps modern accountants

Capium is a cloud-based accounting and practice management package, which meets the daily demands of accounting practices. There is now no need for separate systems, as Capium allows you to run your whole business under one system. With our 6 key modules, we allow accountants to conduct all processes in a secure, speedy and user-friendly manner.

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