What does Microsoft want with accountants? To be their best friend. Whether you’re a big firm or a start-up, the world’s most iconic technology business wants finance professionals to know that a strong relationship with accountants is of the utmost importance to Microsoft.
“Helping accountants understand the world of digital transformation, the world of cloud, the world of Software as a Service (SaaS), is incredibly important,” explains Paul Bolt, Microsoft UK’s director of small and medium business. “We believe accountants will be asked to form opinions on behalf of their customers. The [digital] transformation process is driving demands onto partners who work with businesses. Accountants, for us, are part of this ecosystem of partners.”
Bolt, like many others, firmly believes that the changing nature of technology will do away with traditional accounting. In-depth knowledge of tax law will always be important, but crunching numbers and other repetitive tasks, such as audit, may soon be replaced by automated processes. For that reason, an in-depth knowledge of how technology can help firms — and their clients — is vital to firms’ success.
“The reality around the basic work we do is that it can be automated,” says Mark Sykes, a partner at accountancy firm BDO. “If it hasn’t happened yet, it’s only a matter of time before it will be.”
Yet technology’s relentless march, as much as it encroaches on traditional accounting work areas, presents opportunities, too. Sykes says that for SMEs and other clients, business is as bewildering a world as ever. For that reason, tech-savvy accountants can leverage their positions to advise clients and find solutions to remove obstacles.
“Our focus is working with businesses to help them succeed,” Sykes continues. “I’m interested in a business, where it is today and where it wants to be in the future. My job is to think of solutions that can help it get there. In the past I might have focused on a client’s accounts or audit. In the new world, I want to partner with clients and help solve their challenges.”
Enter Microsoft. While accountants might know their way around a business, they might not be up to speed when it comes to utilising the best in technology to better help their clients, or to give advice on the best technological tools available.
“Accountants are being asked to provide a point of view on areas where maybe they traditionally haven’t, such as customer relationship management (CRM),” Bolt says. “Effectively equipping accountants to understand and have a point of view is incredibly important. It allows them to remain relevant to their customers, and it allows them to diversify their revenue streams and broaden the services that they have traditionally delivered.”
Bolt explains that educating accountants about new technology, and how it can help them and their clients, is something that Microsoft takes very seriously. And, for accountants, having a company they can trust makes all the difference when they are rolling out some big changes.
“It’s about having that trust relationship,” says Chris Downing, business intelligence partner for Milsted Langdon LLP. “Not only are there benefits in using that technology correctly within our practices, it’s also understanding how the technology can be used for our clients to add value.
If we can gain a deeper knowledge of the applications that are available, we can then pass that knowhow and experience on, and in turn make a leap away from the clichéd stereotype and become fully rounded business advisers.”
For any accountants who are slow getting on the technology — and advisory — bandwagon, Sykes says it is time for them to wake up and get up to speed.
“If [accountants] have built their career on fundamental process-type activities, that’s an area that is massively at risk to automation and machine learning,” Sykes warns. “Accountants need to focus on using their expertise to find solutions and bring ideas to the table to help their clients succeed.”
Downing agrees. After seeing dividends from Milsted Langdon’s own blossoming relationship with Microsoft over the last 18 months, he says that accountants need to prepare to embrace change and partner up with a company like Microsoft to get the most out of technological developments, for them and their clients. He also warns that technological nous is what clients will expect, and that as advisers, accountants need to stay out in front of the pack.
“Change is inevitable and one of the major influencers of change is technology,” Downing says. “Cloud is certainly the primary stimulus at the moment, forcing accountants to re-evaluate tried and tested strategies. Established firms need to embrace tech and teach staff accordingly so they are ready for competition brought on by smaller, more agile firms that are able to invoke change at a faster pace.”
So what are you waiting for? Finding a friend to help you make the most of technology, and building that into a strong relationship, has never been more pertinent for accountants.