Taking The Leap: Transactional Accountant To Trusted Advisor
Anyone who has actively watched or been involved with accounting technology in recent years is likely familiar with the accelerating demand for analytics. The timeline of innovation within accounting technology that has lead us to this point is definitely an interesting trajectory to reflect upon.
The shift to platform based accounting software allowed for businesses to expand their financial abilities far beyond a ledger in a spreadsheet and in turn generated an ever increasing amount of business data. With the more recent technology innovations, the power of the cloud was brought into play, which introduced an entirely new outlook on the advantages that come with real time integrations and online access to software. The cloud created a universal community for the accounting industry, providing access anywhere, at any time to connect with clients or analyze information. With data now being instantly available, the next phase for accountants and technology should be one of introspection, where advisors ask the daunting questions that are yet to be answered by their clients:
“What does it all mean? How does it influence your business? Where could you be improving?”
These questions, along with thousands of others, can be unraveled with the power of data analytics. The first wave of analytics sought to do exactly this; answer the difficult questions with data. Arguably, Microsoft Excel was the most widely used “analytics tool” for years. Many early advisors used it to crunch the numbers and pivot the data, and many still use Microsoft’s spreadsheet solution as a go-to technology in their toolkit. Other more robust solutions followed in its footsteps in the late 1990s and early 2000s, all seeking to enhance on Excel’s capabilities, and many adding in an awareness and the philosophy that their tools should be powered by an expert. Solution providers began to recognize that an everyday citizen may be able to generate budgets on a basic level, but it was unlikely that they would be able to master the variety of features Excel and it’s predecessors had to offer without prior study or having a career in the correlating field.
It’s always valuable to enhance one’s expertise by understanding the complexities that surround technology, but as the old adage goes: with great power comes great responsibility. In regards to past data tools, that “power” often meant tedious hours manually generating charts and analyzing data while running the risk of human error. After all the time and energy firms spent pivoting data and crafting reports for clients, they far too often have ended up watching as those same clients eyes glaze over when they presented them with the research and resulting analysis.
Then came the recession of 2008, and with it the uproot of everything we had come to know as ‘business as usual’. After the dust of the great collapse began to settle, we saw economic recovery emerge with a new face. The big businesses we had become accustomed to leading the efforts for stabilizing the global economy were now competing with much smaller and more dynamic businesses that arguably were the major driving force behind the market resurgence. Small-to-Medium Businesses (SMBs) and startup companies were now single-handedly changing the meaning of business within the world.
It was these businesses that drove the adoption of cloud technology on a global scale. They’ve built their businesses from the ground up with technology at their core, using applications to enhance their data analysis within the cloud. They are adapting and utilizing the tech-savvy environment that surrounds them by reaching for the right technology to automate elements of their business from the start. This has resulted in a great wave of entrepreneurial SMBs that are using less manpower and more mind power to craft solutions for their target markets and audiences.
As these innovative SMBs continue to increase in market share, there are two demands they face that stand out amongst all others: their need to make sense of data they are generating and their need for business advice and expertise. Predicting the financial future is one of the biggest struggles that they are facing, meaning they need someone with business and financial acumen that has experience working with and helping companies like them. These businesses need a Trusted Advisor.
‘Trusted Advisor’ is terminology that you’ve more than likely heard floating around the profession for quite awhile. Business owners are taking the initiative and actively seeking out advice from experts in order to understand their business data and make informed, intelligent choices to drive business success forward. With these businesses being tech-savvy and one of the biggest adopters cloud solutions, spreadsheets and static data will not satisfy them when it comes to understanding their health and performance. These businesses need tools that integrate seamlessly, allows them to visualize and interact with their business data instantly, and allows them to establish meaningful relationships with their chosen advisor in order for them to thrive.
With the rise of automation in companies as a whole, the future of an accountant won’t be determined by what the numbers they can crunch but rather the insights they can provide. Technology can already automatically calculate analytics and generate customizable and visually appealing reports. However, the ability to develop a deep rapport with clients by providing them with meaningful and valuable insights is a talent technology cannot replicate. In a future much nearer than you may realize, the key differentiator for accountants and advisors will be determined by how they interpret and make use of the data that is already at their fingertips to provide meaningful and engaging insights for their clients.
Many industry publications have been echoing the need for practitioners to make the shift from transactional accountant or bookkeeper to a trusted advisor for several years now. But the time has come to look at your practice, the clients you serve, and determine how you want to establish the future legacy of your business. The clients are already out there, and according to US economic data, their numbers are continuing to grow. So the question becomes:
Are you ready to take the leap to become the trusted advisor this market needs?