The best prepared accounting firms manage to be more productive and profitable, according to a new study by Wolters Kluwer CCH.
Wolters Kluwer CCH president and CEO Teresa Mackintosh discussed the findings of the report on the top five trends affecting accounting firms on Monday during a keynote address at the 10th annual CCH Connections conference in Orlando, Fla.
“Given all the changes we’ve seen in our profession, what is your firm’s vision of the future five years ahead and how prepared are you to make them?” she asked the attendees. “Is it a clear, straight ahead view with no surprises? Is it a treacherous road ridden with obstacles? I hope not. Or is it not really much of a road at all, but a path that you have just chosen and worn down year over year as you do the same thing? For some firms, it’s actually a very interactive road with intersecting vans and traffic that evolves with patterns and that is agile and moves to the demands of the firm.”
The report, Charting a Course for the Future: A Report on Firm Preparedness, surveyed nearly 500 accounting professionals at firms ranging from two employees to more than 500.
The survey was designed to pinpoint attitudes, thoughts, actions and behaviors of firms that consider themselves “very prepared” to leverage key trends affecting the future of the profession, compared to those indicating they were “Less Prepared.” Two core questions served as the foundation for painting an industry picture of where firms stand: 1. What trends will have the most significant impact on accounting firms and their clients over the next five years?; and 2. How well prepared are accountants to take advantage of these trends?
“There are ample opportunities for all accounting firms to boost productivity and profitability, but what’s critical is knowing where those opportunities exist and how to leverage them to improve client satisfaction,” Mackintosh said in a statement. “The combination of understanding these survey results along with listening to industry peers describe how they capitalize on key trends to succeed can be highly influential in charting a course of future business growth.”
The survey found that the most significant outcome of “very prepared” firms isn’t just a high overall level of confidence, but results. In addition to reporting being more productive and more profitable, “very prepared” firms strongly believe that technology is the key to managing change and driving better business results.
According to the survey, only 18 percent believed they were “very prepared” to take advantage of the profession’s most significant trends—those that were identified as having the greatest influence on the future of the accounting profession.
The top five trends that the survey found will have the most significant impact on firms in the future as an increased focus on client service, technology integration changes, digital mobility opportunities, talent management and succession planning, and social media as a business tool.
Overall, the firms that felt they are “very prepared” to embrace the top trends said they make a concentrated effort to think ahead, anticipate future needs and use technology to add value for their clients. Being more proactive is another common theme in the survey expressed by “very prepared” firms. They believe it is a fundamental trait of who they are and how they operate.
These same firms also state stronger growth objectives. The majority of “very prepared” respondents project firm growth of 6 percent or greater over the next three years.
Client Service and Technology Integration
The top two trends reported as having the most significant impact on the industry’s future are connected on many levels as firms of all sizes meet changing client needs in adopting a continuous loop of engagement opportunities. Whereas 24/7 firm availability was once the exception instead of the norm, the speed of technology and the importance of client relationships continue to intersect.
Examples include secure cloud solutions, such as client portals, providing around-the-clock digital access to documents and data, on-demand file sharing and the advantage of safely exchanging information, even away from the office.
Of those surveyed who said they are “very prepared,” 76 percent said service and support provide added-value and retain existing clients, or double the 38-percent response from “less prepared” firms.
While “less prepared” firms tend to view technology integration as more of a tool to meet a single, functional need, “very prepared” firms view the power of technology more holistically in addressing future challenges, improving client satisfaction and driving new business.
Enhanced digital mobility includes on-the-go access to accounting research libraries by providing professionals fast access to trusted information when and where it’s needed.
According to the survey, nearly 80 percent of “very prepared” firms said digital mobility opportunities will play a “very significant role in their business within the next five years. Respondents also said leveraging mobile devices and digital platforms help firms reduce capital costs, increase client service and improve employee productivity.
Talent Management and Succession Planning, Social Media as a Business Tool
Trends #4 and #5 focus on different levels of attraction. Not only are firms looking to attract and retain the best people, they take advantage of opportunities to use social media as a business tool in creating new communications channels to attract and retain clients.
According to the survey, nearly seven out of 10 “very prepared” firms said they are ready to take advantage of talent management and staff succession planning in looking at the future, compared to only 30 percent of “less prepared” firms.
Leveraging social media opportunities is another way firms are looking to create value and stand out among the competition. Nearly 70 percent of “very prepared” firms surveyed have already implemented social media as a business tool compared to 55 percent of “less prepared” firms.
When firms were asked about the greatest benefit to having a social media presence, their responses drew a direct connection to the top overall industry trend—to enhance client satisfaction.
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