Rapid change in the overall business environment makes the embrace of technology by CPAs imperative. Simply consider the impact such innovations as spreadsheets and enterprise resource planning systems had at their inception decades ago and how they helped to overcome some tough accounting challenges.
Surely there are pros and cons to the emerging technologies in the world of accounting and finance, but could we stop the momentum if we wanted to? And why would we? With a growing millennial workforce, technologies such as the cloud and mobility can be at the forefront of our efforts to recruit, staff, and retain the teams we need to accomplish our goals.
Answers Among Trends
For insight into the evolving world of new accounting skills, roles, and hiring strategies, the close management software company FloQast sponsored a survey by independent marketing research firm Dimensional Research in June 2018. The purpose was to delve more deeply into the realities of accounting technology, and, more specifically, to understand the demands of organizations in their recruitment and retention efforts. The subsequent report, Cloud Technology Advances the Accounting Profession: A Survey of Accounting and Finance Professionals, is available at https://floqast.com/research/cloud-technology-advances-the-accounting-profession-a-survey-of-accounting-and-finance-professionals. It includes results from a survey of more than 500 accounting and finance professionals worldwide, having varied experiences with accounting technology. All subsequent statistics in this story are from the final Dimension Research report.
Background on the Cloud
Cloud computing is a technology infrastructure where users have access to shared pools of computing resources, typically over the internet. It enables users to forego the expense and maintenance of on-premise hardware infrastructure. Cloud computing is quickly becoming the go-to model for organizations that opt to use public clouds, private clouds, or a combination of both for many of their business processes. Open systems have enabled users, including accounting teams, to connect a variety of applications using application programming interfaces, thus eliminating stratified vendor application stacks and gaining best-of-breed functionality.
Embraced early on by smaller organizations that struggled with both fiscal and human resource constraints, these subscription-based systems were simple to implement, required less hardware, and delivered faster results. As data security concerns were addressed, medium and large organizations also began to adopt cloud-based implementations in their computing mix, often with accounting and finance leading the way.
The Dimensional Research study indicates cloud implementations in accounting are pervasive, with more than three quarters (79 percent) of respondents reporting use of cloud-based applications in financial processing. Cloud financial application types vary greatly, as illustrated in Figure 1.
Benefits of the Cloud
Correlated to the use statistics above, the study uncovered some interesting trends showing how technology will affect and benefit the accounting workforce:
- A variety of positive impacts included increased efficiency due to automation, schedule and work location flexibility, fewer paper-based processes, and higher job satisfaction.
- Cloud use requires evolving accounting skills, with an emphasis on technology, data, and systems. The vast majority (81 percent) of respondents listed these characteristics as most critical to being a “great accountant.”
- Hiring processes will be altered, especially as the composition of the workforce continues to change, bringing the new expectations and work style of younger staffers.
As cloud-based, service-oriented implementations and improved automation deliver a multitude of positive results, they also bring challenges that must be addressed.
Many survey respondents (63 percent) felt it is generally harder to hire and retain accounting staff than it was 10 years ago. Challenges range from finding the right skill set, to lack of employee commitment, to worker demands for nontraditional benefits, such as flex time and work from home options.
Many hiring changes are a result of the way technology and the cloud have dramatically altered accounting itself:
- Repetitive tasks are being automated, virtually eliminating some data entry and clerical positions.
- Brick-and-mortar office space is no longer necessary for teams to function effectively.
- Technical skills to implement and maintain cloud environments are essential and prized.
Technology and Perks Are Pivotal
Organizations are listening to staff and applying creativity as they shift their perspectives in the quest to hire and retain the best possible talent. Bigger salaries and more time off are still important, but surprisingly not a list topper. Cloud and mobile technologies take the top position, as companies are adopting both to increase staff efficiency and deliver the flexibility to work where and when it is most desirable for the finance pro. Management training follows, which allows staff to more readily embrace the “newness” they encounter and to broaden career opportunities and professional standing, as you can see in Figure 2.
Other survey results in some ways mimic the standard recruitment postings for today’s tech worker. Whether or not they are a reality for every organization, they are worthy of consideration. They represent what many workers are growing to expect. Subsidized lunches and healthy snacks, gourmet coffee, on-site fitness facilities, funding for educational programs, team outings and recognition, 401(k) matching, even pet-friendly office environments all made the list of desirable criteria.
Other Hiring Realities
As the accounting profession morphs into something new, other factors add to the dilemma of recruiting and retaining top talent.
The baby boomer generation is retiring, and there is not enough immediate talent available to replace them. With fewer candidates, the competition for quality hires from a finite pool of candidates increases. Low unemployment rates in the profession also ease the ability to move between positions, impacting organizational loyalty and commitment.
With the exit of the boomers from the workforce, the need for millennials grows, and they bring with them their own unique work style and preferences. All of which are enabled by technology:
- Flexible work schedules are the norm vs. a traditional 8-5 day.
- Remote work is expected, with no need for a physical office or years-long cubicle attendance.
- Advancement and compensation expectations are both high, with fast and frequent promotions and raises assumed.
- The value and intellectual stimulation of varied and interesting projects is paramount, with no desire to complete low-level or rote activities.
- There is a preference not to be bound to a single employer for extended employment engagements.
To the Rescue
Cloud technology brings with it new ways to address and overcome hiring and retention challenges in a positive way.
These characteristics benefit both the staffer and the organization as they meet multidimensional demands head on:
- Automation can optimize existing staff and redirect head count expense while removing repetitive chores.
- Mobility enables and empowers the “work anywhere” model now in demand and allows for the best staff hires, regardless of geography, while also decreasing organizational real estate costs.
- Less paper enhances both automation and mobility by trading traditional office-bound hard copy workflows for a simpler-to-manage digital approach.
- Increased efficiency adds time for more interesting, value-added projects and individual growth.
- Easy-to-use, web-based software can reduce the need for extensive training and speed organizational return on investment on cloud-based implementations.
Accountant of the Future
Over the next 10 years, technology will continue to change accounting, as the report states, “in a good way.” Reluctance exists, but the bulk of survey respondents (81 percent) felt that technology would have a positive effect, making accounting jobs more interesting and strategic. Finance staff will enjoy better opportunities to become more visible, credible, and valuable, and hiring and retention will improve as new technology-focused teams emerge and define themselves.
“Cloud accountants” will lead the way into the future, and organizations everywhere should embrace the cloud and other new technologies to keep up with a business pace that seldom relents. The ability to do more satisfying work, be under less stress, and find work/life balance can only enhance accounting team acquisition and retention efforts – thus organizational success – while furthering individual skills and creating rewarding careers.
Mike Whitmire, CPA (inactive), is chief executive officer and cofounder of FloQast. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MikeWhitmireFQ.