The days of meeting with your accountant once a year, saddled with a shoe box of receipts, are long gone. Accounting is no longer simply about compliance and a signature on a tax return.
From tax planning, consulting, bookkeeping and financial statements to business valuations, controllership and family office services, the accounting landscape is growing and increasingly changing. Most firms find themselves servicing their clients in ways that didn't even exist 10 years ago.
So what has spurred the major changes in the accounting industry?
Some of the many factors include advanced technology, demand for real time information, and an increase in sophisticated, cloud based tax and accounting software. Technology aside, the accountant's role has also become more advisory in nature and more influential to their client's financial success. Accountants are continually finding themselves in the position of trusted adviser, focused more on long term growth and strategy, rather than simply number crunching and tax preparation. Accounting professionals have become the sounding board for not only a variety of financial inquiries, but also client-related personal decisions. Today's accountants are often looked upon as great referral sources for helping to build a team of business professionals around their clients continuously changing needs.
The level and nature of client service has also changed dramatically. In our on-demand society, client service involves continuous communication, ongoing consultation/advice, emails, phone messages and texts from clients at any time. Accountants are not only required to keep up on the ever changing rules and regulations, they need to be flexible enough to communicate on a variety of topics in ways that fit with their multigenerational clientele.
While many firms have settled into the changing environment within their industry, others are still struggling to accommodate the inherent work/life balance issues associated with real-time client service. While cloud based software, internet accessible devices and secure client portals have changed the need to always be in the office, clients still expect prompt and accurate results. Great work product comes from maintaining a great staff, so finding a balance between exceptional service and staff retention is crucial.
While there is no perfect solution, today's progressive accounting firms need to adapt to this accounting evolution. By providing automated client services through digital payroll, portals and online tax software, accounting firms can use technology to help staff become more efficient.
Efficiency is only half of the equation as firms still need to simultaneously invest in, develop and engage their staff in order to maintain their best people. Today's accountants are interested in providing exemplary work while also seeking stability and flexibility. Changes now come regularly and firms need to try and stay on the cutting-edge. Those not willing to make the necessary changes will certainly be left behind.
• Mark Dubinski is a partner with Weiss & Company LLP.