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How accountants can be time-rich, not time-poor 

By Jim Scott, managing director for Accountancy at IRIS Software Group

One of the most elusive factors that allow you to run a successful and competitive accountancy firm, is having more time. Recent research shows a quarter of accountants cited a lack of time as a significant barrier to introducing and adding more services for their clients. Having the ability to truly master time and be considered ‘time-rich’ is something most continually strive to achieve throughout their career. But what does it actually mean? 

For many accountants over the past few decades, they’ve been taught to believe that ‘the first one in, last one out’ mentality is the only way to manage your time. Trying to do as much work as possible is the answer to mastering time. While for an increasing number, it’s now about how they can become more efficient, get some time back, and reinvest it into existing clients through additional value-add services. More recently, many accountants have brought new meaning to being time-rich, by putting both their professional and personal lives at the core of their day and ensuring the right balance between the two. 

The increase of technological adoption across the industry in recent years, heavily accelerated by the pandemic and by Making Tax Digital (MTD), has helped accountants speed up and automate their repetitive work processes. Reducing, but not eradicating, the level of manual intervention needed allows accountants to begin to reclaim their precious time. 

The cost of fear

The age of technological transformation has touched almost every industry and the accounting sector is no exception. Accountancy jobs are becoming heavily dependent on and influenced by technology however, there is still a lot of hesitancy and fear of tech around it in the industry. Despite the inevitability of technological adoption, only 5% of firms are currently considered truly digital. The hesitancy to adopt technology that will streamline workflows or client communications for example, is holding many firms back and is causing them to inadvertently become time-poor. This has a cost. Whether a financial or personal cost, a stagnation of growth, or a deterioration of the quality of service.  

The impending introduction of MTD, and the technological overhaul it brings, has caused additional stress and uncertainty among many accountants. Some are unsure of where to turn for answers and others are considering ‘quitting while they’re ahead’, rather than face this new wave of change. However, where there is change, there is also an opportunity to improve, automate and streamline. 

 

It’s time to embrace the fact technology is the reason the industry is (at least in part) where it is today. It’s in everything an accountant does; spreadsheets, payroll software, compliance applications and communication channels with clients. The driver of these technological advancements is the industry itself and the evolving needs of the accountant. There will always be a place for accountants, but we must accept that where closed loops of work are automated by technology this is our chance to cease back the time these actions would otherwise take and think really carefully about how we will now use that time. Do we focus on advisory, take on more compliance clients or do we take the time back for ourselves and enjoy it? 

Plugging the drain of time 

The vital guidance and expertise accountants provide to their clients, can only be properly delivered when they have the right amount of headspace and capacity to do so. There’s a real need across the industry to embark on the journey to becoming time-rich by arming accountants with the tools and technologies they need to succeed. Technology is an enabler, what you do with the time it gives you back, is your decision to make. 

Many of these tools can be obtained by moving into the cloud. Cloud-native firms often embody time-rich characteristics by focusing on smarter and more efficient ways of working through process and task automation. Accountants can make accurate, informed decisions by obtaining and analysing data as close to real-time as possible; all while being able to react and respond to any changes or updates in legislation. These truly digital firms are raising the standards for the entire industry, and more traditional practices must look to technological solutions to keep up.

When thinking about how accountants can liberate their time, technology is just an enabler. A change in peoples’ mindset is needed and the key is to explore how the practice (or an individual accountant) can liberate its time and itself to be successful. The industry has moved on and local high street accountancy practices are no longer the go-to choice for new clients. The flexibility of digital practices means prospective clients can work with accountants from anywhere in the country. Accountancy firms need to continue to evolve and might benefit from considering more of a commercial and technology lead practice than has been done in the past, to ensure they are time-rich and ahead of the competition.  

Being time-rich is a subjective term and varies in meaning for every accountant. The pandemic and MTD have helped to speed up the natural, and inevitable, rate of technological adoption. However, there is still some fear and hesitancy amongst accountants. The adoption of new tech can help streamline and even automate manual work processes, connect desperate applications and give accountants time back for them to reuse how they see fit. But this is not enough, a deeper change in mindset is needed to allow accountancy leaders to run their practice like a business and enable them to truly liberate their time and become time-rich. 

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