INSIGHT: How technology freed the accountant – and why Kiwis stand to benefit

If you are a business owner in New Zealand, you may not spend a lot of time thinking about how life is for your accountant.

If you are a business owner, you may not spend a lot of time thinking about how life is for your accountant.

You probably only see them once a year – if that – and the content of your communication is likely pretty dry.

Reconciliations, data entry, tax payments – they’re not typically the first thing business owners and operators refer to with enthusiasm when they describe their business successes and aspirations.

And to be honest, the same goes for your accountant. Historically, the accountant’s main role in small business accounting has been to ensure that small business owners comply with their tax obligations and once a year they would be tasked with reconciling their client’s books.

This isn’t why many accountants entered the profession – but it is where most end up spending their time.

Over the last decade – and with increasing momentum over more recent years – that reality is changing, with the profession transformed by a range of technology.

The advent of online accounting systems, has made manual data entry increasingly redundant as bank transactions, receipts and invoices (once supplied in a bulging binder or, the accountant’s real dread, the ‘business’ shoebox) are automatically entered, coded and filed.

The same systems have done away with the need to rekey data between business and practice systems while access to source documents is automatic.

Accountants and their clients are now able to keep track of every transaction the business does as it happens, rather than having to wait for the End of the Financial Year to get a true picture of how the business is performing.

Other technologies, from the proliferation of smart devices which enable constant collaboration and the ready sharing of documents, to the opening up of Government systems through the introduction of APIs, have made it far easy for accountants and their clients to communicate, share and meet their compliance obligations.

So, good news for the accountant freed from the drudgery of traditional practice. But even better news for their clients – and by extension, the whole economy.

With the bookkeeping role of the accounting practice streamlined and largely automated, accountants are more often able to take on an advisory role with their clients.

And who better to do so than someone who is not only positioned to understand every financial element of their business but also has wide ranging experience of similar (and competing) businesses in the same market?

It’s a role that most accountants relish, and one I believe will become the fundamental driver of the profession in the next decade.

As a nation, we are highly entrepreneurial. We tend to give most things a go, without giving too much thought to the limitations we might face. It’s a great trait for a dynamic young economy. But we do struggle to convert our successful small businesses into world-beating large enterprises.

This is where the evolution of the accounting practice can play a major part in filling the ‘missing link’ for the local business sector.

By providing both the depth of experience and the managerial rigour, our accountants – freed up by technology to focus on business development – should be able to play a major role in the growth and development of New Zealand business.

And that’s a freedom I think we can all celebrate.

By James Scollay - MYOB General Manager, New Zealand