By Darren Fell*
More needs to be done to entice young people into the accounting industry and fight back against the so-called ‘skills crisis’ and high youth unemployment rate regularly reported in the media.
Randstad Financial & Professional recruiters estimate the UK needs to recruit an additional 80,000 accountants by 2050 in order to satisfy the long-term demand for qualified financial professionals. The obvious challenge is to excite young people, while sourcing the best talent and attracting employees who have commitment and staying power. However, in order for accountancy firms to stay ahead, it is also vital they listen to what prospective employees want and adapt accordingly.
The Intuit 2013 Future of Accountancy Report says, "tech-oriented Gen Y and Gen X clients will increasingly expect to interact with their accounting professionals digitally and virtually, using online and self-serve customer support in addition to traditional methods. They will also expect faster and even real-time responses to their requests." This change in attitude has encouraged existing accountancies to move into the cloud and has paved the way for online accountancy start-ups who take a different approach to the industry.
Many of the traditional services provided by accounting professionals – particularly low-value added or easily automated processes – will become less profitable and the need for employees in these departments could disappear completely, the report predicts. However, those who can adapt to these changes, finding innovative ways to structure and automate services while still providing a valuable human experience, will find themselves at a competitive advantage.
In the coming years, successful accounting and finance professionals will take on new roles as consultants and advisors, providing a range of technical support and services rather than focussing on ‘nuts-and-bolts functions’ such as computation and tax preparation. By focussing more on the customer experience, accountants are able to ensure the needs of the customer are met quickly and efficiently, eliminating the frustrations some feel towards the profession.
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Revolutionising and streamlining business functions will have a two-fold effect for accounting firms. Their services will be cheaper, thereby broadening their customer base and enabling them to target small businesses, start-ups and freelancers, and they will also attract younger talent into the industry.
This young talent is absolutely essential for the continued growth of the industry, as the ‘digital generation’ have an almost instinctive understanding of how best to use digital communication technologies to widen, target and analyse audiences – the Intuit Report claims this will be a key source of client referrals over the next decade. This is the approach we are taking at online accountancy Crunch. Over 80% of our 100 employees are under the age of 33, with the majority of our customers also falling into this category.
It is an exciting time for the accounting industry but it is important to assess how we can continue to adapt and experiment with different approaches, removed from some of the long-standing yet out-of-date traditions. Those that are prepared for such changes could find they not only attract a more diverse set of customers but also entice new talent and innovative thinkers that will be essential for the future success of their business.
*Darren Fell is managing director and founder of Crunch online accounting