The changing role of modern accountants
The traditional role of the accountant has been to provide bookkeeping and audit services to their clients in line with regulatory and tax bodies of whichever jurisdiction they belong to. The phrase ‘bean-counter’ is an oft-used derogatory phrase painting accountants as dry individuals with no concern for anything other than numbers.
While this analytical role of any business’ annual performance via balance sheets and profit and loss statements is still an important part of an accountant’s job, it is becoming increasingly commoditised and automated by advanced cloud-based programs. Crunching numbers and providing raw data is fast becoming the domain of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, while progressive accountants are adapting to this new environment by developing other areas of their expertise to become professional business advisors.
In a world of e-commerce and globalised customer bases, the challenges facing clients are changing, incorporating more aggressive tax regulations, revenues arising from multiple jurisdictions and increased competition.
The role of the modern accountant is one of strategic advisor, or as one of our participants below puts it ‘powerful interim CFO.’ Advisors need to understand what makes their clients tick on a human level to understand what advice they require to make the decisions that will drive their businesses in the direction they want to go.
The role requires a business partner who understands the pressures of entrepreneurship and is able to think laterally and creatively, using financial data to find solutions to pressing problems. In the discussion below our members passionately emphasise the value of building trusted partnerships with clients.
Having the ability to interpret financial data in the best interests of the senior management, while offering advice based on that interpretation, will be the way accountants remain valuable to their clients; embracing technology and using it as an asset, rather than seeing it as competition. Providing access to professional cross-border networks will be another crucial factor that gives new modern strategic advisors that competitive advantage.
The following discussion draws on the expertise of seven modern strategic advisors from the UK, Switzerland, USA, India, Canada, Belgium and Hong Kong on proactivity and dynamism, the rise of AI, approaches to tax planning and the benefits of an international outlook.