The future of the corporate accountant is in flux. FinTechs are developing ways to automate accounting tasks, forcing human accountants to provide more strategic, value-added services. At the same time, an influx in the variety of financial management solutions for large and small businesses has some companies looking beyond the corporate accountant.
Research released in July by job search website Indeed.com found that “small business accountant” was not among the top 10 professions for which small- and medium-sized business (SMB) hirers looked; instead, “business analyst” was the most in-demand corporate finance position, followed by “business development manager” and “data analyst.”
That doesn't mean corporate accountants are jumping ship, however. In fact, a new report from software company Right Networks suggests corporate accountants are quite optimistic about the future of their profession.
A survey of 364 CPA companies, accounting professionals and small businesses found that 61 percent of respondents are “moderately confident,” and 32 percent are “very confident” in their outlook of the national economy. According to Right Networks, the data shows “accounting professionals feel confident about the prospects for increased business growth and stability, throughout their industry and the economy as a whole.”
These professionals do not appear concerned that accounting software solutions will replace their jobs. Instead, the majority actually said accounting software was the most important innovation in their industry. More than 63 percent said they were motivated to upgrade their technology to embrace automation to better serve their clients.
Embracing The Cloud
Cloud technology is critical to this initiative, Right Networks found.
Two-thirds of survey respondents said the cloud enables them to build relationships with their customers, while professionals cited the ability to receive advice on business strategy — with forecasting and risk management capabilities, for instance — and to engage with new businesses as key benefits of the cloud.
The ability to access customer data “anywhere, anytime” was ranked as the number one benefit of the cloud for corporate accountants, followed by increased access to the software itself and the ability to share data with other applications and professionals.
Three-quarters of survey respondents that are already using cloud storage and application technologies said they are “very confident” about the future of their profession. Forty percent reported they are willing to embrace technology as early adopters, and added they are committed to investing in emerging innovations and apps — including the cloud.
This embrace of technology may be an unexpected finding for some analysts, many of whom warned automated accounting solutions may be jeopardizing accounting jobs. Instead, accounting professionals told Right Networks they are looking to better service their clients, which are increasingly demanding an “always available” accountant, they said. Accountants also noted they acknowledge the need to be more flexible and increase productivity.
Cloud-based solutions enable accountants to embrace the evolved role as a consultant, and 52 percent of survey respondents agreed this trend is likely to continue.
All of this optimism could actually lead to more accounting jobs moving forward, not fewer. Fifty-nine percent of professionals surveyed said they plan to hire new employees in the next six months, according to the Right Networks' research.
The data suggests technological advancements in corporate accounting may not culminate in the future of humanless accounting departments that some have feared — at least, not anymore. Last year, reports in the Wall Street Journal found that, between 2004 and 2014, staffing levels within corporate finance departments dropped 40 percent, with the publication saying accounting software and other automated solutions could be to blame.
According to Right Networks' latest data, though, corporate accountants feel confident not only about their ability to make use of these solutions, but also to strengthen the profession and make new hires in the coming months.
“The findings in this survey help highlight the ever-present need in this industry for evolving technology,” reflected Rachel Krug, director of product marketing at Right Networks. “We are happy to see such a promising outlook for the future, based on the accounting professionals and CPA firms surveyed.”