13 May 2016 12:20pm

The future of the profession

Rob Nixon, the chief executive and founder of Panalitix, has been helping accountants run better more profitable businesses for the past 22 years. So what does he have to say about the future of the profession? We found out at this year’s Accountex

Since 1994 Nixon has been coaching accountants, running companies that train them, developing products and software companies to help them, researching and writing books about them, all in the pursuit of making accountants more relevant to their clients and run better businesses.

So what’s the biggest change he has seen in the industry in this time?

“Definitely cloud,” said Nixon. “Accountants have always been very comfortable, making good money, and haven’t needed to change,” according to Nixon.

“But now cloud accounting and technology is really disrupting the whole profession so they have to change.”

While Nixon described it as “exciting times” he did acknowledge that many accountants don’t understand what’s going on, while others have their heads in the sand trying to ignore it and refusing to accept that change is happening.

Nixon believes the access to real time data will actually enable accountants to be more useful and offer more business advisory services to their clients.

However, despite the benefits, growing advancements in technology do pose a threat to the traditional accountant.

“It’s definitely a threat to them but the accountants can capitalise on that if they add value,” he said.

And small firms with less money to invest in technology don’t have to be excluded, he added.

“It’s not software that only the big players can afford,” he said. “For a few hundred a month you can look like one of the big guys.”

But, he warns, if accountancy firms don’t progress, they are going to disappear.

Trends for the future

Nixon predicts cloud accounting will impact about 80-90% of small businesses in the next few years, making the small business system more efficient, meaning less time is spent on the accounting side. He believes firms will either have to downsize their teams or win new business or grow their business.

After that, the government will have to change their systems so that they have better receiving systems of financial data.

“The government systems will talk to the cloud accountancy systems and bypass the accountant,” he said.

“Another chunk of revenue on being the middleman between the government and the business community will disappear.”

Nixon believes outsourcing will be needed in order for firms to be cost competitive.

“The accountants must offer broader digital services. They will not be able to survive just on compliance,” he warned.

For Nixon, the future of the profession is most definitely digital. “The paper will go eventually, the chequebooks will go eventually, the paper receipts will go eventually, it will all be done through a barcode system and through internet based accounting.

“The profession will be more mobile so the traditional high street firm that’s got bricks and mortar, will need to adapt to that because the big guys are offering services at £150-200 a month and coming down for the small accountancy firms to get the smaller clients.”

“It’s do or die.” According to Nixon, and the small accounting firms “have to step up”.

And what would Nixon like to see in the future of the profession? “I would love for accountants to live up to their title of trusted advisor and become it”

“I would love for accountants to add value to the data that they can see every single day,” he said.

He hopes accountants will adapt to the changes that are happening in the profession and embrace cloud accounting, because with it, they can see their clients’ financial data every single day if they choose to rather than reviewing it once a year.

For Nixon, that is “powerful”. “It makes accountants more relevant to their client base.

“They can add value, they can predict what’s going to happen their client base with that real time data. The accountants can then become much more useful because dealing in last years information is useless,” he said.

For him, waiting to implement these changes that are already happening is “delayed gratification. Let’s do it now,” he said.

Speaking at Accountex about the importance of becoming “the firm of now”, Nixon stressed that compliance is being commoditised by technology and jobs and revenue are at risk.

“Unless you capitalise on what’s happening right now it will take your revenue away,” he warned.

He encouraged accountants to combat disruption and compete with new innovators by embracing cloud accounting and switch from being a “redundant data accountant” to a “real time accountant.”

“This change is happening with or without you so you might as well embrace it and embrace cloud, embrace offering value, embrace a new technology culture, embrace marketing. Do these things to remain relevant now,” he told economia.

Already at the forefront of the digital accountancy industry, Nixon has big plans for the future.

“Artificial intelligence is one we’ve got our eye on,” he said. “We see the whole robo-advice scene and think we’re going to get into that. I don’t know how but I’ve started the process off,” he told us.

One interesting proposition Nixon has is in mind is Siri for business. “Let’s call it Andy the advisor,” he quipped.

"Here would be a really interesting proposition, if we could build Siri for business, Andy the advisor, that is actually and accountant, with an accountant’s voice, coming through to the client."

“If we could build a technology solution the accountant offers to the client in a package monthly fee, white labelled by the firm, enabling the accountant to give advice without even being there.

“It would be like a databank of advice," he explained.

“The accountant still makes money from, but doesn’t have to do a thing.

“Now that would be pretty cool!”

Sinead Moore


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