A new report on the state of accountancy reveals that the extent of change since the introduction of cloud software will lead to accountants broadening their offering beyond number crunching, into data analysis and management consultancy. Signaling a new era in accounting, the report exposes that significant numbers of accountants in Bristol think business management (54%), risk analysis (49%) and computer science (31%) skills will be needed in order to succeed by the year 2026, as automation creates opportunity for technical analysis.

Two thirds of accountants in Bristol (67%) expect proficient knowledge of technology and automation in finance to be crucial to their success within five years. Furthermore, 15% feel the extent of change will be so great they will need to leave the sector if they don’t adapt to modern methods by the end of the decade. Opportunity in Bristol remains strong however, with 67% confident they can adapt to change, as accountants top the list of most trusted advisors for Bristol SMB owners (21%).

The death of the 9-5 and the birth of ‘on demand’ accountants

Key findings in the report commissioned by software innovators Xero include a shift in the traditional ‘9-5’ as cloud technology takes over. 44% of accountants in Bristol say that technology has made their working day more flexible and 64% believe they would be more successful if they could choose the hours they worked. A huge 95% of accountants in Bristol believe this increased flexibility to be beneficial to those with commitments outside of work, such as parents. This belief is supported by research from the Centre for Ecnonomics and Business Research which found that two thirds of mothers who stay at home with young children would go back to work if flexible hours around childcare were an option.

Della Hudson, Founder of Hudson Business Accountants and Advisors is a working mum and employs eight flexible workers at her firm in Bristol: “Using technology, especially cloud based, allows us to be more flexible over time and place of working. This means that we get to recruit some really high calibre team members who want time with their family or to take more holidays because their kids have grown up. Whatever the reason we find that looking after our team helps them to look after our clients,” comments Della.

Combined with technology enabling ‘anytime, anywhere’ connectivity, the options are continuing to grow for companies to change their working models and end the ‘one size fits all’ approach – increasing productivity at the same time. The report also found that a major factor for Bristol based SMBs when choosing an accountant today was responsiveness (9%), a benefit that technology brings by giving real-time access to figures and a variety of ways to keep in contact, e.g. through software, email or instant messaging.

A new era of collaboration for SMBs

Over half (57%) of small business owners in Bristol still expect to interact with their accountant via email, followed by 14% who believe they will communicate via video call and 9% by instant messaging. Interestingly, only 10% believed they will communicate with their accountant via accounting software in future.

A growing number of small business owners in Bristol feel the automation of certain tasks will give their accountants the ability to add more value to their businesses, with just under one in five (18%) having asked their accountant for broader business advice at some point.

Although 25% of small business owners in Bristol said they did not think they would need an accountant at all in 10 years time, the skills small business owners consider to be most important in a business advisor are trust (48%), attention to detail (46%) and technical competence (39%) – all key qualities of an accountant. As part of the full report, some SMB owners admitted to being willing to spend up to £100,000 on management consultancy to save a failing business – an area smart accountants can capitalize on.

Gary Turner, Xero’s UK managing director comments: “As we head into a prolonged period of technological change in the next five years it’s encouraging that many accountants see being tech savvy as a key survival skill. However, the survey also suggests that the profession needs to work harder on investing sufficient time in keeping abreast of emerging technologies, and in more effectively persuading SMBs that a close working relationship with a financial professional will be important in years to come.

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Paul Bulpitt, Head of Accounting at Xero and co-founder of the Wow Company Paul Bulpitt is the co-founder of The Wow Company and joined Xero as their Head of Accounting in the UK back in August 2015. Paul founded The Wow Company in 2004, building a fast-growing national firm exclusively serving small businesses. Driven by a focus on personal relationships and progressive processes, The Wow Company has earned numerous accolades at the Xero Awards, as well as the Practice Growth Award at the 2014 Practice Excellence awards.