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How digital transformation is driving change in accountancy recruiting

By Martyn Draper, head of Finance Recruitment at Totum Partners

In 2019, a Sage report found that the majority of accountancy firms were investing in new technologies only when necessary to keep clients happy. However, with studies showing firms that had invested more heavily were better prepared to deal with the impacts of Covid-19, the past year has had a positive impact on technology adoption in the industry.

More than 50% of accounting firms have now adopted cloud-based accounting software, while remote collaboration and communication tools have also seen considerable uptake during the pandemic.

While these technologies will help to make accountancy roles more accessible and frictionless, they will also expand the breadth of knowledge required to succeed in the industry as firms seek out those with future-proofed skill sets.

Driving diversity in accountancy hires

At Totum, we believe that diverse teams help firms to truly thrive. By recruiting talent from a range of backgrounds, across all levels of seniority, accounting firms gain access to a wider variety of viewpoints and perspectives, helping to improve problem-solving and boost productivity. In fact, past studies show companies with more than 30% female executives outperform less gender-diverse companies by as much as 48%, while ethnic and culturally diverse companies are up to 36% more profitable than their less diverse competitors.

While the accounting sector recognises the problem, it has often struggled to improve diversity in its workforce. At leading firms, less than 5% of partners come from a BAME background, for instance, despite making up 13% of qualified accountants. Evidently, there is a huge source of talent that is likely being wasted.

However, with greater implementation of technology in the sector, firms can begin to address bias, benchmark diversity, and ensure that everyone is given an equal opportunity to progress within the industry. Using technology, firms can capture and create data-driven insights that will help to challenge negative thinking and spot underrepresentation in the workforce.

Likewise, with remote working practices tried and tested to much success during the pandemic, firms will no longer be held back by proximity when searching for new talent and can also provide greater flexibility to those most disadvantaged by stringent office working policies, such as caregivers or those with limited mobility.

The importance of data security

With access to sensitive data on multiple individuals and businesses, accounting firms are prime targets for cybercriminals hoping to carry out extortion attempts, hold important files for ransom, or sell it on the dark web. For those that suffer a breach, the impact can be devastating. Not only do cyberattacks come at a significant financial cost, particularly so since the implementation of GDPR, but also risk considerable damage to a firm’s reputation.

To prevent falling victim to cybercriminals, accounting firms must ensure adequate defences are in place to safeguard against threats. While cloud-based systems typically include basic security features to protect against hacking attempts, 80% of breaches occur due to human error, such as employees falling victim to phishing emails designed to steal log-in information or infect a device with malware.

It is imperative, then, that future hires understand the importance of data security for both their employer and their customers and possess the skills to spot and avoid potential attacks. With the Big Four accountancy firms – KPMG, Deloitte, PwC and EY – among the top cybersecurity hirers in the UK, data security is evidently high on the agenda in the accounting sector.

Redeploying in Covid’s wake

Lessons learnt in the 2008 financial crisis have enabled firms to avoid the dire predictions that were made at the start of the pandemic. Firms were able to make use of their abundant expertise in credit control and cash flow to navigate a rocky 2020, all while implementing and learning new systems as workforces transitioned to remote working practices.

Accounting will emerge from the pandemic largely unscathed, but by no means unchanged. According to the International Federation of Accountants, 90% of business managers existed in their organisations prior to 2020, and the pandemic has only highlighted the need to address these insufficiencies. While firms intend to return to the office once safe to do so, firms will continue to value the agile, future-proofed skill sets that combine both the technical and the professional, enabling firms to take quick action when future crises arise.

Finding the right candidates

Given Covid-19’s economic impact, firms must carefully consider any future hiring decisions. As estimated by Oxford Economics, the average cost of turnover per employee stands at £30,600 and is likely considerably higher for executive and specialist roles.

To avoid unnecessary expense, firms must ensure they have a robust recruitment process in place to find candidates that fit the company culture. Human connection is, of course, important. However, a candidate’s skills and experience – from their approach to the job, to the software they’re used to – should also be taken into account.

Accounting has often been slow to adopt the technologies available to it, but the industry has taken the opportunity to embrace digital transformation during the pandemic. While many are keen to return to the office environment, the solutions implemented will continue to serve, providing greater efficiency and flexibility moving forward. As firms look to future-proof their workforce, the ability to utilise and advance the use of technology will play a far greater role in future recruitment policies and patterns.

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