Accountants are becoming crucial technology advisors to SMBs, but not all are on board

By Chandrashekar LSP, Zoho

For years a good accountant was a great bookkeeper. Today, new technology solutions based on machine learning, automation, and artificial intelligence are redefining what makes a great accountant. As more low-level accounting tasks become automated, a paradigm shift is occurring within accounting firms across the globe.

What’s clear is that accountants aren’t losing their jobs to tech disruption, the profession is merely evolving alongside technology. Unfortunately, many accountants are reluctant to embrace and utilize new accounting solutions and offer advisory services to SMBs. Within a few short years, that’s all going to change.

Technology has introduced new challenges and opportunities for accountants and the accounting profession as a whole. Basic transactional accounting services are now automated. Small business owners have access to a variety of do-it-yourself software solutions to manage their bookkeeping, payroll, and invoicing—all without the need of a CPA.

Nevertheless, with myriad technology solutions at their disposal, SMBs are seeking advice from their accountants. A recent survey by AccountingWeb and Zoho found that accountants are being asked for advice regarding technology decisions 83 percent of the time. Besides answering client questions, 94 percent of respondents recommend technology to clients when they spot a need. When they don’t, the biggest concern accountants have about providing technology advice is that it’s out of their depth (22 percent), liability issues (19 percent), and getting sucked into complex projects (17 percent).

Accountants need to remember that small business owners are consumers too, and they’re looking for accounting services to be as responsive and transparent as other products or services they use in their personal and professional lives. Accountants can advise and tailor solutions that meet their clients’ unique business needs and requirements. Unfortunately, respondents in the survey were reluctant to advise because they felt it was out of their depth (33 percent) or because they wouldn’t be making profits (27 percent).   

Without a doubt, the relationship between accountants and their clients is evolving. SMBs are looking for expert advice from their accountants, and they should be willing to pay for this service because they gain a competitive advantage when their accountant offers more than bookkeeping services. The survey found that outside of tax season, nearly 40 percent of accountants receive five to 20 technology-related questions per month. Most of these questions relate to software selection and implementation, but training and data security are also areas where clients seek support.

The challenge for accounting firms is shifting their mindset and revising their business model from transactional services to consultancy and advisory. Accountants can offer additional services to their clients such as refining business plans, opening new business opportunities, and strategic advice such as tax ramifications between various business structures (i.e sole proprietorship, LLC, partnership etc).

Alongside other industries affected by big data, automation, and artificial intelligence, accounting-services firms are evolving. Technological change and shifting consumer trends demand a new approach and perspective on how the accounting industry creates value for clients. Accountants are more than number crunchers—their knowledge, insight, and experience is integral to the success and prosperity of SMBs around the world. It’s time for accountants to embrace disruptive accounting technologies and become trusted technological advisors to SMBs. 

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Chandrashekar LSP is the product evangelist for Zoho Corporation Canada. To learn more about Zoho’s accounting tools, please visit: https://www.zoho.com/ca/financeplus/.

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