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Why accountants must be primed for future technology

UK Research & Innovation’s challenge director Stephen Browning tells London Accountant why now, more than ever, accountants must keep one step ahead of changing technology.

Stephen Browning

October 2019

Leaps in technological advancements are dramatically reshaping the accountancy industry, so now more than ever, the sector has a responsibility to not only keep up with these developments, but also to stay one step ahead to maintain its global leadership position. As services – including accounting, insurance, and law – account for almost 80% of the UK economy, it is vital that we ensure these are primed for the future. 

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the national funding agency investing in science and research in the UK, has allocated £20m of funding to projects exploring how new technologies could transform the UK accountancy, insurance and legal services industries. The Next Generation Services challenge, as it has been named, aims to advance technologies such as artificial intelligence and data analytics that can help the sector to become more efficient, productive and globally competitive. 

There are a number of key technological trends and obstacles within the accountancy sector that are having a huge impact on pricings, operational efficiencies and customer experience. Artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics are helping to streamline data analysis, mitigate fraud and address the data challenge which is supporting the transition of today's accountant into a more critical thinking role. 

There have been a number of incremental innovations in tax software that have helped improve accuracy while reducing margins of error, as well as streamlining audits, which is something businesses want to embrace in order to avoid tax penalties and prevent issues with stakeholders. 

The arrival of cloud accountancy has equally been hugely transformative by allowing accountants to perform accounting tasks from any location and deliver financial information and reports through the cloud, meaning there is more time to engage with the client and focus on business strategy. 

UKRI has so far offered grants totaling £4.4m to nine projects that are wholly or partly in the accountancy sector. We have funded a project by Beyond Green, which is seeking to develop theArena17, a trusted sustainable business assurance tool, which will provide accountancy firms with holistic business data analysis to improve resource efficiency, comply with energy & carbon reporting and evidence their sustainability credentials against global standards. 

This will allow unquoted companies to understand their sustainability credentials and communicate them to investors and stakeholders. This will also position the accountancy industry as a leader in social and environmental advice for businesses. 

In turn, the industry can withstand automation by broadening the scope of their services to business analysis that takes into account shifts in global trends towards transparent indicators of environmental and social performance. 

Another project which has won funding, Reducr, looks to provide a unique business cost saving service delivered through accountants; they will harness cloud accounting software to automate cost savings analysis that is currently performed manually. Working with accountants they connect to a client’s cloud accounting platform, then find key billing data, generate quotes from alternative suppliers, benchmark the client's spend and deliver a report to the accountant. 

Accountants can package and sell the service in any way they choose. The project will provide accountants with an additional service to sell to their customers and will create over £4.4m in incremental cost savings for UK businesses. It will furthermore put the UK at the forefront of cost management data analysis. 

There has been incredible development over the past five years and with proper funding and support, these innovations can continue to improve the sector exponentially and cement the UK as a global leader.

Stephen Browning is challenge director at UK Research & Innovation 

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