It’s impossible to pick up an industry publication without encountering headlines that scream “automation will eliminate most of what you do in your practice in the next decade”.

The concern is a very real and global one – it affects every industry, not just accounting. Proof in point, a 2013 research study estimates that nearly half of employment in America is at high risk of becoming automated in 10 to 20 years, with the accounting profession ranking in the top six of the most automatable occupations.

According to an Australian research paper released by the Centre for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), “in the next decade there is a high probability that occupations such as accountants, estate agents and even economists will not exist or will be significantly depleted.”

The researchers even go so far as to hypothesise that 94 per cent of what you do right now as an accountant or bookkeeper will be replaced by machine learning and artificial intelligence by 2030.

That is only 13 years from now.

And it’s precisely why thought leaders, industry bodies, and training organisations are urging you to focus on making the shift to advisory.

While some would have you believe that talk of jobs and revenue lost is just simple fear mongering, many firms are right now seeking to move away from backward-looking compliance work (work that describes what has happened in the past and present) which is increasingly being automated by cloud accounting packages and apps. These firms are exploring new value-added advisory services that are not so easily automated and are forward-looking (helping the client to anticipate and deal with change, challenges and opportunities).

These advisory services, can help accounting and bookkeeping firms to future-proof their practices and create faster-growing, recurring, or high-margin revenue streams that make it easier to let go of compliance work.

So, it begs the question, if the future of our industry is cloudy, how many firms are already providing advisory services and what is real the outlook/potential for our industry?

A recent survey by Sageworks found that while many practitioners would like for a large share of their revenue to come from advisory services, the reality is that for many, very little revenue is actually derived from strategic, consultative or advisory work.

Participants of this survey were asked two questions:

  • what percentage of firm revenue comes from advisory/consulting work? and
  • what percentage would they like to come from advisory work?.

The graph showing the responses to each question are virtual mirror images of each other. While many would like to offer advisory services, most are in fact not doing so today.

Surprisingly, nearly half of respondents said less than 10 per cent of revenue comes from advisory/consulting work, and more than two-thirds put the estimate at less than 20 per cent of revenue. Only 13 per cent said 40 per cent or more of revenue is advisory/consulting.

As for the first question – how much they’d like to come from consulting/advisory work – nearly half of respondents said 40 per cent of revenue. The majority of the respondents said they’d like at least 30 per cent to come from strategic, consulting, and/or advisory.

Unfortunately, our industry and the way we educate and train new recruits is focused on technical skills, legislative changes, and GAAP processes. These establish you as an expert but they are not enough to elevate you into the realm of coaching, consulting or advisory. When you sit down to advise your clients, it’s just too easy to fall into the trap of “explaining accounting” and focusing on ‘what’, as opposed to focusing on the specific steps and strategies your client must implement to grow safely and profitably.

Compounding this, there is very little training in university, on the job, or in our industry bodies to show you how to make the shift into advisory. Contrary to popular belief, advisory is not about selling dashboards, forecasts or apps. It’s about connecting with your clients and communicating in a way that gains leverage and influences them to take action to improve their results.

Right now you are facing a cloudy and uncertain future. Doing nothing is no longer an option.

In order to evolve and remain relevant, you must acquire a new set of tools, talents, and thought processes that complement the financial acumen you already have. The skills, focus, and mindset required to excel in the fields of audit, tax, and compliance are vastly different from those required to excel in the disciplines of strategy, advisory services, and coaching/consulting. The core distinction lies in the difference between whether you are seen to be an expert, or to have expertise and insight.

The client will always pay more money for expertise and insight because their perceived value to the business is much higher.

As an accountant or bookkeeper, you are already a deep subject matter expert in all things financial. However, most of what you do for your clients is focused on the numbers that describe the past and present of the business. These compliance tasks are highly price-sensitive, the scope of work is limited, and it is almost impossible to leverage them to create influence with your client.

In order to create influence, you must move into the domains of ‘why’ and ‘how’ — these hold the key to helping your clients move forward. Coaching and advisory services are the gateways to ‘why’ and ‘how’, respectively. Figure 1 sets out the three gateways and illustrates the path from accountant/bookkeeper to coach and trusted advisor.

Both ‘why’ and ‘how’ require a future-based, big-picture focus as well as a broad, inter-disciplinary approach. While all three dimensions require deep subject matter expertise, only the trusted advisor possesses the key set of skills, focus, and mindset that leverages their specialized knowledge in a way that is impactful and influential.

*This article originally appeared in the Aug 18, 2017 edition of Public Accountant magazine.

Rhondalynn is also the co-founder of the world’s first advisory mastermind for accountants and bookkeepers Make The SHIFT


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