In the face of rapid technological change and radical economic transformation, accountants must use the tools that are available to them, to become strategic business advisers and to add value to their clients’ businesses beyond financial reporting.
That was the message delivered by keynote speakers and partners at the Sage Accountants Roadshow, held in Johannesburg and Durban, under the theme #DisruptandThrive. Speaking at the event, keynote speaker and tech guru, Aki Anastasiou painted a picture of a cloud-enabled future, characterised by self-replenishing fridges, Uber for air transport, sensors that can predict a heart attack four hours in advance, and on-demand commerce, facilitated by robot delivery.
“The things that tech companies are doing today were not possible five years ago,” said Anastasiou.
“But they are possible today because these businesses are constantly reinventing themselves. And they’ll do it again in another five years. It’s the only reason they’re relevant today.”
Anastasiou asked the crowd of over 300 accountants what keeps them up at night. Answers ranged from uncertain economic conditions and helping clients to grow their businesses, to keeping up with technological advancements and clients’ slow uptake of new technology.
“These challenges offer the greatest opportunity,” said Anastasiou.
“Change is the only constant. You have to be willing to be uncomfortable. What will you change to serve your clients better?”
The accountant reinvented
One thing that is changing, is the market’s perception of the role of accountants today, according to Kantha Naicker, Chairman of the Board of the South African Institute of Professional Accountants (SAIPA). Naicker said accounting is no longer about reporting history but about how accountants can use real-time information to change the conversation with clients and how they can use cloud-enabled solutions to work smarter.
“As accountants, we’ve become stuck in the doing-ness of finance,” she said.
“Our thinking hasn’t evolved. Many still bill by the hour; they don’t have a single version of the truth, and few have a strategy to manage talent or future growth and expansion. We can’t keep doing the same things and expect a different result.
“We need to start thinking about the skills and knowledge we need to be able to present insight into the numbers, to understand our clients’ businesses and identify the levers that add value, and to make practical, actionable recommendations as strategic business advisers.”
To survive rapid change, she said accountants must learn faster than the rate of change and faster than the competition.
“Accountants of the future are agile, scalable and always available,” added Naicker.
“They’re mobile, tech-savvy, onboard and social media savvy.”
The future is cloudy
In a panel discussion, a handful of Sage’s over 150 independent software vendor (ISV) partners – including Receipt Bank, Syncedbeans, Skynamo, Cloudone.mobi, Syft, Analytics2Insights, and Draftworx – outlined how innovations in cloud automation can free up accountants’ time by streamlining repetitive and time-consuming processes, like ordering, invoicing, stock replenishment, management reporting and compliance.
Pieter Bensch, EVP, Sage Africa & Middle East, added: “It’s these types of innovations and integrations that will get accountants to change how they think and work so that they can thrive in a disruptive economy.
“If you can’t add value to your customer, they don’t need you anymore. Sage is no different.
“That’s why we’re making significant investments in our cloud products, as we move towards becoming a cloud-based, subscription business. We understand the connectivity challenges of running a business in Africa, so we’ll continue to invest in and support our on-premise products. But the future is in the cloud, and that’s where we place our focus, to add value to our customers, and their customers.”
The final leg of the Sage Accountants Roadshow takes place in Cape Town this Friday (June 28).