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Accountants turn to digitalisation to drive strategic business advice in a crowded and uncertain market

Accountants are turning to a digital-first business model as they seek to scale and be more flexible to service both agile new businesses and established clients. Almost half believe that improving the quality of their offered services is one of the most important challenges they face. The same proportion report that finding new customers is a chief difficulty for their business. As a result, accountancy firms are turning to automation in order to reduce admin time, integrate business processes and improve flexibility to boost service levels and attract new prospects.

These are among the findings of research into the challenges facing SME sectors such as accountancy, manufacturing and distribution commissioned by Exact and carried out by Pb7 Research. The study queried 2,500 professionals across Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, the UK and the US.

The crowded market of 2016

Companies that are unable to streamline their processes are in danger of dropping out of the market. Almost half of all respondents (47 per cent) said that the need to improve the quality of their products and services was one of the key challenges they faced. At the same time, 46 per cent reported that cost reduction was a top priority for their business. As a result, accountancy firms are being caught between a rock and a hard place, as they try to up their service levels without passing on higher fees to customers.

In addition to this, many companies are concerned about their ability to outperform their competitors. More than a third (38 per cent) identified price competition as a stand-out concern, while 28 per cent admitted that they needed to improve on industry specialisation if they were to compete effectively in the race for customers. This was also borne out in customer responses, with 65 per cent feeling their accountant’s skill set could be improved.

New accountancy

In this context, many accountants are turning to integration tools to provide them with a deeper and wider view of their clients’ business in order to drive strategic insight. By integrating with a wider range of client data than just monetary and getting a deeper level of insight into the drivers behind clients’ financial performance, accountants are enabled to provide advice on key processes previously outside their range and become trusted business advisors.

For example, an accountant whose systems are integrated with a distribution client can see when stock levels are too high, and advise the client to reduce their expenditure accordingly. An end-to-end overview of a client’s business enables accountants to provide more relevant, comprehensive and valuable counsel.

“Rising customer expectations and new technology mean that accounting is increasingly seen as a commodity. Accountants that can add value to their clients’ business by providing in-depth business advice have the best possible chance of winning the battle for differentiation, and so of gaining and keeping more business,” said Erik van der Meijden, CEO of Exact. “As customers become ever more difficult to woo, it’s essential that accountants have the granular insights available to understand their prospects’ urgent needs, and to act as trusted advisors on everything from stock to acquisitions.”

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