This article was originally published on asme.org.sg on 24 April 2023.
- Accounting firms must adapt to remain competitive and relevant.
- Use technological tools and tap into alternative resources for recruitment.
- Collaboration and business transformation are key to success.
Having heard so much about how the world has transformed during the pandemic and now that the pandemic is nearly over, it is good to take stock of how our business has changed. In the current business context when there is a high demand for hybrid mode of work, with the gig economy and shift in expectations of the workforce, employers have to review their recruitment and retention strategies.
Changing needs in Accounting & Advisory Industry
For the accounting industries to remain competitive and relevant to consumers, they need to evolve their services. Accounting firms are turning to being business partners with clients in providing advisory services rather than just compliance work. Whilst smaller firms or start-ups may focus on increasing the revenue and market share, organisations are not pitching for customers as aggressively as before due to the fear in not being able to have the resources to deliver the projects.
Tap on alternative resources
The Accounting and Advisory industry, like Health Care, Construction and Hospitality, also faces challenges amidst the manpower crunch. Compounding the issue with change in expectations of the new and younger workforce, who prefer to have more flexibility in the mode of work, constantly looking for better career opportunities and purpose of work, Smaller and Medium sized employers have to explore alternative platforms of securing resources to perform the work, which include technological and intellectual resources as follows:
- Increasing the adoption of technological tools using Artificial Intelligence, Robotic Processes, Optical Character Reader, Data Analytics.
- Turning to foreign talents and offshoring certain functions
- Centralisation of certain routine functions to tap on economies of scales, and ensure consistency in delivery of services
Whilst the above provide solutions to the problems faced by the industry, they come with costs such as investment in technology. Adoption of tools can only replace human from doing certain tasks but not others which require judgements. However, there is no one-size-fits-all tool available in the market. Customising the tools require further investment in time and resources. Another obstacle to an effective transformation is that operational and client facing staff are busy with day-to-day work and they do not wish to be disrupted in their workflow.
Although offshoring or outsourcing work to foreign jurisdictions may offer relief to talent shortages in the accounting industry, challenges related to cultural adaptation and staff mobility can arise. Offshored staff may develop different expectations after acquiring relevant skill sets, leading to potential demands for higher remuneration.
In the accounting and audit industry, Small and Medium sized Practitioners should centralise certain functions and develop their intellectual resources by setting up a library of best practices. This will be useful in times of rapid staff turnover although it is challenging for smaller firms to be able to attract appropriate talent and expertise to perform these tasks.
Innovative Revenue Source
It is observed that in certain countries such as the US, Canada, UK and Australia, accounting firms have grown their advisory services at much faster pace than the traditional Audit, Tax, and other Compliance services. These advisory services are usually more lucrative but require more experience with a senior level professionals’ involvement, However, there is a scarce pool of talent and while larger professional firms can expand such service lines, there may be barriers encountered by smaller firms as resources are limited. Hence, smaller firms can collaborate with other smaller firms or start-ups or technology firms to jointly develop new service lines or establish re-seller arrangements for new products or services. Through collaborations, staff from each organisation could also learn from each other and develop an agile and adaptable mindset.
Re-engineer and Transform workflow
Regardless of size, business transformation is necessary for business continuity. Transformation is a complex process which requires effective change management. Apart from investing in Talent (Human), Technological and Intellectual Resources, trust and support by management and buy-in by the people of all levels are required for a successful roll out.
Business transformation requires strategic and innovative thinking. Success requires support from the top and ability to embrace change with the right values to be instilled across the organisation. Without an effective transformation plan, it is easy to fail.
Lee Tze Shiong is Director of Transformation and Quality Assurance, CLA Global TS.
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