Last week, I spoke at Accountex 2016. After my talk, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend some of the week’s most interesting sessions. In doing so, I got a great view of what the future looks like for accounting software and the accounting industry as a whole.
While accounting is still a big ship with a slow reaction speed, there are plenty of trends and shifts that will have major impacts on the long-term course of the industry. For instance, did you know that nine out of ten accountants think that other accountant is kind of a jerk? This is the sort of gold that I uncovered last week.
Without further ado – and also no more dumb jokes – here are the five biggest trends and takeaways from Accountex 2016.
We’re over the rainbow – the cloud is so last year
In a keynote, Sage’s Jennifer Warawa highlighted some lessons she picked up at this year’s Gartner symposium. Mainly, that no one is talking about cloud computing as the future anymore. Instead, cloud is the accepted norm for most activity.
Warawa said that accountants and businesses that failed to move ahead and leverage technology would end up being left behind. In order to be indispensable, accountants need to look beyond the basics of cloud computing and start thinking about how the next innovation is going to affect their clients.
This move away from basic infrastructure will come with a move toward more consultant-based roles, where accountants are acting as a trusted advisor to their clients. The basics, for Warawa, now include understanding and managing clients in the cloud. It’s taken for granted that you’ll be able to do that.
Beyond the cloud, we’re looking to connected devices, being that trusted advisor, being irreplaceable, and not getting stuck in the old ways of thinking. You’re on-board with cloud technology, now what comes next?
Just kidding, no one is in the cloud
We may be heralding the cloud as last year’s news, but we’re still not actually using it. Only three or four out of ten clients is setup to use the cloud for financial management. For something that we’re taking as a given, it’s still not the norm.
The problem is usually one of functionality. New users can move into cloud systems without much of a hitch and some older businesses might make the transition seamlessly, but many still rely on functionality and workflows dictated by older, installed versions of QuickBooks, Sage, or NetSuite.
So we can talk all day about how we need to be on the cutting edge, but until we figure out how to manage a client’s business with the available tools, we’re just not all going to be in the cloud.
There are new, new changes afoot – enter, blockchain
Doug Sleeter gave a presentation on the ways blockchain technology – the system that underpins Bitcoin – can have an impact on the financial space. This is one of my favorite new whispers.
While I’ve been dismissive of Bitcoin, I think the underlying technology is fascinating. Blockchain is a transparent and traceable way to manage digital interactions, and its growth could seriously help the industry move to a cheaper, faster future.
The potential isn’t lost on the industry, with companies like Goldman Sachs, Barclays, and MetLife all looking into blockchain applications in one way or another. There’s potential to make escrow more streamlined, remove the need for placing trust in random third parties, and decentralize financial transactions.
Accounting software is changing
We have clouds we’re not really using, blockchains that could change everything, and a coming shift toward consulting. With all that in the background, it’s not surprising to say that accounting software itself in still in the midst of a major change. The surprise to me was how varied the changes we’re seeing are.
Xero is all-in on cloud computing, having reworked the way it’s databases are structured to maximize its online advantage. Sage Live is Sage’s new medium business offering, which is built on top of the Salesforce ecosystem to get more out of reporting and business data. Meanwhile, companies like Billy – an accounting system for freelance creative – are diving down into incredibly focused niches.
There was a time when it seemed liked everyone was just moving at different speeds in the same general direction. This year, it felt like everyone renewed their commitment to their own unique plan.
Accountants are changing
In direct opposition to that broad and varied change, the change within the accounting field is still guided toward the accountant-as-consultant endgame. Increasing automation coupled with increased demand for guidance has given accountants the tools and the market for a shift in skillsets.
I think it’s hyperbolic to say that accountants as we know them are on the way out, but I think we’re more likely to see small businesses choose to employ either basic bookkeeping services or advanced consulting services. I think demand for folks in the middle ground that most accountants now hold is going to shrink over the next five years.
In that time, bookkeeping services are going to continue to service more clients, more efficiently, while accountants will begin to service fewer clients with more focus on forecasting and day-to-day financial management. That’s going to generate more value for everyone along the chain.
Final thoughts on Accountex 2016
I had a great time at this year’s conference, and I was lucky enough to be invited to speak on the first day. Next year, the conference moves to Boston, and I imagine the quality will only increase.
The trends that I saw last year largely continued into 2016, but they’re being refined. Now, we can start to see what this long term plan for accounting actually looks like. Whereas we had a general direction last year, now we have a path, I think.
I can wait to see what 2017 holds for the profession and for accounting software. Follow along with the Capterra finance blog as we dive headlong into the New Year.
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