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How SME Accountants Approach The Threat And Opportunity Of Tech

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Change within the enterprise will always bring friction, but when it comes to change brought about by the adoption of more sophisticated technologies — especially in accounting and cash management — that friction is worth the effort.

But the picture of technology adoption is a complex one, as cloud accounting company Sage has shown. Earlier this month the firm released a white paper that found the majority of SMEs say they prefer to stick to traditional tools and processes instead of endure the challenge of integrating new technologies. Even so, nearly a third of those companies that have made the leap to tech adoption say their growth has improved because of it.

Now, Sage is diving deeper into how technology can improve a company’s accounting and cash management processes — and finds that some SMEs aren’t just concerned about adopting technology themselves, but are also worried about their accountants adopting new tech.

In a new report released Tuesday (April 18), Sage found that 89 percent of accountants would be happy to integrate new technologies that made some processes “invisible” so that they could focus on more strategic aspects of their jobs.

Overall, Sage’s Practice of Now report found widespread optimism in the accounting community with regards to the potential for innovative technologies to positively impact their operations — and about the future of their jobs overall.

The vast majority — 96 percent — told Sage they are confident about the future of accounting, but most (68 percent) said they expect technology to change their role in the field, with 43 percent expecting that change to come via automated admin and a quarter expecting technology to automate their work but for them to retain control over how that information is applied within the enterprise.

The majority of the accountants surveyed expect technology to make their role in the enterprise a more strategic one, Sage found, with those tools enabling them to provide enhanced financial and business guidance to their business clients.

Technological Threats

Not every accountant is optimistic about the future of the profession, however. Sage analysts found a pattern of these professionals concerned that automated solutions may detract from a company’s ability to see the value in a human accountant, for example. More than a third cited self-service accounting tools as the largest threat to the profession, and even more said that it’s emerging technologies that can perform some of the tasks for accountants, rendering at least part of their roles unnecessary.

Further, there are challenges to adopting technologies that could actually make an accountant’s life easier.

According to Sage’s survey, more than half (57 percent) of accountants say their companies invest in technology, including the cloud, and two-thirds said they have adopted a cloud-based practice management solution.

But more than a third noted that security is a top barrier to adopting the cloud, and 14 percent say their own clients are concerned about their accountants using cloud-based tools.

These hurdles have led many accountants to continue using manual solutions, with nearly a third admitting that they use manual processes as part of their recordkeeping practices. A quarter said they still use Excel, and 7 percent simply use handwritten notes.

“Change can often divide the crowd,” reflected Sage EVP Product Marketing Jennifer Warawa in a statement. “This research shows the majority of accountants see the empowering opportunity that automation can bring, freeing them up to focus on their practice and their clients.

“As artificial intelligence and bots become progressively more intuitive, the door opens further towards the future of invisible admin and gives them the space to spend their time on more valuable services for their clients,” Warawa continued. “The industry must come together to support this change and help eliminate any barriers to fears that can hold accountants back. The call to action is now with accountants and small business owners to embrace the change and decide how they will spend the time that automation will afford them.”

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