The pandemic is setting the stage to change just about every aspect of running a business.
With market volatility and economic pressure higher than it has been in more than a decade, the ways businesses manage and account for their money is inevitably included in that wave of operational change.
That means significant implications for the ways accountants and auditors operate both within an enterprise and externally from it. While the corporate accountant was already along a transformational journey pre-pandemic — shifting from number-cruncher to strategic adviser — Ross Hampton, head of business development for the Americas at CaseWare, recently told PYMNTS that this shift will accelerate and begin to take a new direction.
The key drivers of that transformation include technology, as well as a heightened need for auditors, accountants and their clients to foster a collaborative ecosystem, he said.
"It has always been important that there be a close ecosystem between auditor, accountant and client," said Hampton. "But especially with where we are sitting with COVID this year, we've been forced to work in a different way."
Corporates Feeling The Pressure
For those corporate clients, the pressure to remain profitable, grow and support shareholders — all while remaining compliant amid market volatility — is emerging as a major pain point for the chief financial officer.
On top of that burden, said Hampton, compliance and regulatory requirements for corporates continue to shift and must take precedence within firms' financial strategy development. In the near term, corporates are looking to mitigate the negative impacts stemming from the global pandemic; in the longer-term, they're seeking reliable forecasts to plan for a future in a market in which certainty remains painfully low.
"[Corporates] are not only looking at compliance, but how to forecast the cost of [the] coronavirus, how to deal with the different impacts on audits, what needs to be audited, and what will be the impact of financial reporting that a corporation needs to put out," noted Hampton. "All of this has come into play in the last couple of months."
Adding to the challenge is the growing risk of accounting and other financial fraud, which tends to rise in an environment of economic recession, he said.
Accountants, Auditors Respond
These financial pressures mean corporate accountants and auditors cannot settle for the status quo any longer. Indeed, noted Hampton, these professionals must begin to shift their mindset about their profession.
When it comes to combatting fraud, for example, accountants and auditors must place trust above all else. Firms must trust that these professionals are offering the highest quality, most reliable financial opinions, doing their work in the right way. Shareholders must trust financial statements coming out of an organization, too.
"You have to be able to trust the work that takes place within the organization," Hampton said. "In the world of 'fake news,' auditors and accountants have a stronger role than ever to establish trust within the ecosystem."
At the broader level, the opportunity for accountants and auditors to embrace technology is widespread to step up to the heightened standards their clients place on them. The cloud is particularly important today, said Hampton, as are data analytics tools like machine learning (ML).
For CaseWare, this opportunity led to the launch of a suite of apps designed to enable accountants and auditors to accelerate and streamline their work. The solutions include PBC Requests, ReviewCompTax, Audit and AnalyticsAI, solutions that Hampton said allow for accountants and auditors to complete many of these operational tasks simultaneously, leaving far more space to provide strategic guidance to their clients.
An Optimistic Outlook
Although CFOs and treasurers may be feeling the pressure, there are growing signs of optimism for corporates — and particularly their accountants and auditors, whose roles as strategic advisors are evolving faster than ever.
"Because of the demand of businesses and governments, the evolutionary trajectory of an auditor and accountant is increasing," Hampton said. "I see it accelerating, if anything."
The past of sifting through reams of data in Excel spreadsheets is over. Now, often working remotely, these professionals must embrace the cloud-based tools at their disposal to guide their clients through rocky roads while promoting compliance and a stronger financial future.
It won't be an easy accomplishment, however.
"The challenge of trust is the volume of data and the pressures put on auditors and accountants to establish an opinion that is trusted," he said. "You have to start working in a different way. You have to leverage data, leverage artificial intelligence to a degree, and leverage how you collaborate with different stakeholders involved.
"It's combining technology with a different way of looking at things," he continued. "It's that trust within the ecosystem that's the foundation of reliability for an auditor and accountant."