Cognitive technologies, including robotic process automation and machine learning, are rapidly transforming financial services. They are automating mundane activities so accountants are free to focus on higher-value services.
Automation technologies make it simple for firms to collect, collate and draw on data, perform compliance activities and run their business in a more efficient, effective way. They are transforming the way traditional services, such as tax and audit, are delivered and allow accountants to spend more time focused on valuable advisory work.
These were some of the key findings from Smart Industry Report: Professional Services, a special report in Westpac’s Towards 2030 series. But the report also highlights how new technologies are raising clients’ expectations.
“Firms must adapt their services and pricing models to suit consumers who increasingly insist on seamless, value-added service on demand,” says Paul Goessler, national head of professional services at Westpac.
“For instance, rather than looking at historical financial statements, auditors will increasingly be expected to generate meaningful insights and focus on business and financial reporting risk,” he says. “Smart firms are already responding with significant investment in in-house technology.”
A better debt management solution
Westpac’s Towards 2030 report also noted that: “While tech-fuelled start-ups are also unsettling traditional accounting and law, strategic partnerships and collaboration will foster innovation and operational agility.” One example of that is Westpac’s partnership with FeeSynergy.
Managing cash flow is a major and time-consuming challenge for small to medium accounting practices. The average debtor period is between 65 and 90 days.That is why Westpac formed a partnership with FeeSynergy, an automated debtor management system tailored for accounting practices, that provides firms with a superior working capital solution.
FeeSynergy’s software gives accounting practices superior debtor management tools and frees up their cash flow so they can focus on delivering advice – something that adds real value to their clients’ operations. Through this partnership, Westpac is the first major Australian bank to offer a fully integrated payment solution designed for the accounting profession.
“A number of industry challenges are solved through this partnership. It’s a more sophisticated facility than an overdraft,” says Goessler. “An overdraft gives accounting firms a sense of safety they can meet their obligations, but it does not allow them to address the way they handle and manage their debtors,” he adds.
Reduced debtor days
Westpac works alongside FeeSynergy to offer accounting practices a payment capability within the practice’s collection system. FeeSynergy sends out automated email reminders to chase up payment, provides an online payment gateway, monthly payment options for a practice’s clients, and a partner dashboard.
This frees up accountants to spend more time on their business, rather than focusing resources on debtor management.
“Currently, no other bank can offer accounting practices such an integrated debtor collection and finance solution,” Goessler explains.
“No other bank offers accounting practices such an integrated debtor collection and finance solution.”
As FeeSynergy founder and managing director Malcolm Ebb notes, debtors and cash flow can be a major pain point.
“This is a big issue for accounting firms, which effectively become the bank for their clients. Average debtor days in the accounting industry run somewhere between 65 and 90 days. That’s a huge amount of cash they are waiting for at any point in time,” says Ebb.
“Average debtor days in the accounting industry run somewhere between 65 and 90 days. That’s a huge amount of cash they are waiting for at any point in time.”
“This lack of cash stops them from growing. Everything they want to do, from making acquisitions to investing in new technology, taking on talented staff and moving to new premises, requires cash,” he adds.
Professionals must focus on soft skills, too
Looking ahead, continued innovations in fields such as machine learning, blockchain and natural language processing will continue to transform the professional services industry.
Goessler observes that firms will need to embrace technological solutions to maintain a competitive position. But better tech is only one part of the equation in delivering services.
As accounting practices embrace time-saving technologies and shift to advice-based business models, it is more important than ever for individual accountants to focus on developing their ‘soft skills’ such as communication and people management.
“Accountants are given fantastic technical training, but it’s really important to back this up with professional development around leadership and interpersonal skills,” Goessler says. “At the same time, there should be a focus on building diverse teams to ensure the business has access to a wide range of skills and views to bolster and strengthen the organisation.”
Goessler notes that by embracing technology and taking “a more consultative approach”, accountants can expand their role as trusted business advisers to their clients, rather than simply someone they turn to for help with compliance obligations.