Technology is Not Disrupting Accounting, Client expectations are!

By John McAlister and Shelley Thomson

There is no doubt the accounting industry has been in a constant state of disruption for more than a decade. As a result, there’s a good chance you have responded in one of the following ways…

  • It's a buzz word, it's not real, and eventually, the talk will fade;
  • It’s the new way of life;
  • I'll ignore it, and it will go away;
  • I’m terrified and don’t know what to do to keep up;
  • I’m excited about the challenges ahead;
  • It will never affect me;

These are all common reactions that you might also feel regularly, and perhaps many more.

But it is undeniable that accounting and bookkeeping is just one ancient profession that is changing rapidly in the face of the digital availability of information and the expert in your pocket. 

Remember when you were the “expert”? Think about it, does anyone come to your office anymore without having tried to “self-diagnose”? How often do you hear a client say say “I looked on the Internet and Google says”?

Yet, accounting as a profession is as old as numbers themselves. 

Throughout its thousands of years of history, the profession was disrupted many times, is being disrupted now and will be in the future. Understanding a little about the changes in the past can help us to know how to influence the current and inevitable future changes.

Some say “get over it.” Others believe that it is an exciting opportunity. What is clear is that “from ancient Mesopotamia to today, as business, economies and empires get more complex and far-reaching, so too does the sophistication of accounting practices.”[i]

In accounting, the days of “business as usual” are, once again, over. 

Technology is not in itself the reason for the disruption. The main reason is in response to challenges arising from today’s client demands and needs (you know, the ones who pay the bills). Clients have higher expectations from their client experience – many will demand it. And this will invariably be the foundation for expecting “value added” for the fees they pay, not just compliance. Further, they will assume that the technology that enables convenience in other aspects of their lives will flow through to the financial sector.

Unfortunately, for accounting organizations that cling to yesterday’s outdated systems and stubbornly refuse to accept the tsunami of democratization of information will themselves become obsolete.

At the same time, every accounting system around the world is wrestling with rising costs, inconsistent data quality, higher business expectations and public scrutiny. Yet despite the hard work of well-intentioned, highly-trained accounting professionals, accounting leaders and policymakers lag well behind the ongoing impact of the intense economic, demographic, political, fiscal and monetary pressures making “compliance-focused accounting” unaffordable and unsustainable in the current model.

The long-established compliance systems are increasingly unsuited to responding to challenges arising from today’s business demands and needs. It is as if client experience is demanding a Ferrari, yet the accountant is only familiar with Camry service systems.

At the same time, a revolutionary storm is brewing, driven by technological advances and business expectations. The internet era is rapidly transforming expectations of service delivery for the business and networks. 

Developments in Distributed ledger, Augmented intelligence, Machine learning, Privacy, Robotics, Internet of Things, and others are reshaping the business relationship. Advances in data analytics and predictive modelling hold transformative possibilities that could upend the way bookkeeping is practised.

And you can be sure that whatever it ultimately looks like, it will change again further into the future. 

It Is Time for a New Approach!

The future of accounting must put the business client experience at the centre of a cultural and financial network that is both present and virtual –  this is a faciliatory model that meets today's clients' expectations and is fit for tomorrow’s opportunities and purpose. 

To do this, we must all recognize that the client experience is a mindset, a business discipline and a strategy. It needs time and energy devoted to it, just like any other essential business activity. 

How much you can gain is limited only by how well your organization can embrace change and by how deeply you understand clients’ expectations. One way of developing that deep understanding is with client journey mapping.  Done correctly, you will gain an understanding of your current way of working, client experience, and what could be changed to improve all aspects of the business. Using this framework, what your clients do and what they expect will become apparent, and you can then identify gaps between your current service delivery and opportunities to gain efficiency. Curiously, these efficiencies are often enabled by the same technologies that you fear are disrupting you![ii]

According to Christine Crandell, president of New Business Strategies, “Client experience cost efficiencies fall in one of four categories:

  • Data integration and integrity – the right employees and partners have access to the data they need.
  • Streamline workflows to align with journeys – to overcome organizational silos, political 'turfs', inefficient technology and eliminate out-of-date, routine tasks.
  • Employee empowerment – enable employees and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) partners to connect the dots between each of their roles and specific customer interaction expectations.
  • Scale tasks – use smart AI technology to automate routine, repetitive and replicable activities to deliver consistent experiences.”[iii]

We like this as it provides easy to understand areas that need to be addressed no matter how advanced or progressive your business is and also provides a focal point from which you can assess your current state of “client-centred maturity.”

Are you interested in understanding more about your level of client-centred maturity?

  • This is an excerpt from the article by the authors in the Fall 2019 issue of ThinkTWENTY20. To read more, please download a copy from
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[i], accessed November 2019.

[ii] West Corporation, “Five Steps to get the most out of GIS ...” -.

[iii], accessed November 2019

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