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Accountant vs. Business Advisor – What’s the Difference?

Much has been said about how technology is transforming the average finance function. Rapid advancements in cloud, automation and artificial intelligence (AI) are now commonly being used to improve the software on which finance actions are run. Regular and rhythmic processes such as month-end closes, account reconciliation and regular reporting; which traditionally took multiple spreadsheets and several days to complete, can now be completed automatically in a matter of minutes, if not seconds.

Naturally, some financial professionals are nervous about the impact this level of automation may have on their future. And perhaps rightly so, with results from a recent 2017 PwC study showing that 40% of the accounts payable process can be automated―including timely tasks such as billing and reporting. It’s no wonder that most of the industry expects all accounting tasks, including audits, payroll, tax, banking, to be fully automated by 2020 with the use of AI-based technologies.

Automation presents an opportunity

Some professionals are starting to wake up to the opportunity this automation presents by providing them with more time and data on their hands than ever before. Ambitious accountants are harnessing both of these things to offer more strategic value to their increasingly pressured employers; reshaping their roles to act as business advisors rather than just accountants.

For many, this is the chance to reset what it means to be an accountant – breaking free of the stereotype of boring ‘bean-counter’ and into a new creative, strategic professional critical to the future of the business. With new technology, gone are the days of accounting teams being the nay-sayers in the corner, hidden away at the back of the office. Modern software is empowering the accountant to become the gatekeeper to unlocking growth and value for the organization.

Where a traditional accountant would calculate year-end figures and present them to decision-makers; a business advisor may present this information alongside additional strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities they’d spotted in the business data. Along with specific recommendations on how to take advantage of them.

At a time when businesses, particularly SMEs, are under more pressure than ever from rapidly shifting external economic, political and regulatory pressures; the ability to offer added value and advice is always going to be positive. So much so that figures from the Association of Accounting Technicians show two in five of their members say they have already successfully made this shift.

Becoming more of an advisor than an accountant

The skillset of the traditional accountant has always leaned towards the technical. But being a business advisor means being ‘good with the numbers’ is no longer the only prerequisite for getting the job done. To become more advisor than an accountant, individuals should:

  1. Automate as much as possible 

    Behind every great business advisor is a great accountancy software platform, such as the Adra Suite, giving them the time and data with which to work with. Accountants wanting to make this shift simply must move from paper to digital processes across the board to get access to as much information as efficiently and clearly as possible. A digital accounting platform should also allow them to automate regular processes, like financial close; and give them a straightforward view of every transaction processed. Time saved automating tasks is time that can be spent on value-adding analysis.

  2. Create a single view 

    Managing all core business accounting processes in a single digital platform, rather than manually across several spreadsheets, allows a burgeoning business advisor to access a single view of all core financial data. Only with a single view of everything, will an advisor be able to get the full picture of what’s happening across the business. And a full picture is the key to uncovering previously unseen trends and making fully informed recommendations.

  3. Visualize and analyze 

    Once you have access to a single view, you need to then spend time conducting the analysis – evaluating businesses, projects, budgets, and other finance-related transactions to assess how well they are performing. Some accountants might find this ability comes naturally to them, while others might benefit from going on one of the many training courses available online.

  4. Package up and communicate actionable insights 

    Forrester reports 74% of firms say they want to be “data-driven,” but only 29% are actually successful at connecting analytics to action. The role of the business advisor is to make this connection by packaging up his analysis into actionable insights that he or she can then communicate to senior decision-makers clearly. The ability to tell a good story and explain things in a way that non-finance professionals understand is key.

  5. Build a relationship with the C-Suite 

    Of course, actionable insights mean nothing without the ear and trust of the senior stakeholders with the power to activate them. A good business advisor would map out the key players in the organization, create opportunities to meet them and take the time to understand them. Get a grip on what motivates them, their KPIs, objectives, current struggles and how they like to work so you can tailor your actionable insights accordingly and provide tangible value.

There’s no doubt that automation is transforming the role of the accountant. But it’s up to the individual as to whether they harness that transformation positively. As political and economic uncertainties continue to fluctuate; finance professionals have the opportunity to carve out a new niche for themselves, supporting the business with strategic insights. The accountants that will stand out and continue to succeed in this transforming world will be the ones who reshape their role to become proactive agents of change and drivers of growth.