Technology is being seen as a solution for time management, labor shortages, communication, collaboration, and virtually all aspects of accounting.
After speaking to more than 85 member firms during global accounting association BKR International’s Worldwide Meeting in London, here are their top 10 technology movements that accounting firms plan to embrace or enhance in 2018:
Firms have used video to promote the firm brand and its services, but they will use it more and more to have planned and casual conversations inside and outside the firm. Blogs will evolve to video blogs, providing information while introducing firm experts. Live events on social channels will allow real-time interaction and connection to events even if people can’t attend. This is a nice benefit with remote employees to help them stay personally connected to firm culture.
- Apps and Analytics
Helpful time management apps and fitness apps will keep accountants balanced while their digital dashboards will collect and present data in simple formats. Firm leaders will have increasing access to volumes of data relating to their key performance indicators internally as well as smart organization of big data on client industries.
- Conversation as a Platform
Although not widely used in professional settings other than for directing a phone call to the proper individual or in two-way chat functions, conversation as a platform will be useful for accounting firms to direct clients to resources and answers in a conversational style. Some current examples include chatbots that can take requests via text message or social feed, and voice agents like Siri, Alexa or Cortana. Developers are looking for ways that these platforms can more easily interpret the user’s intent and deliver on more complex requests.
- Event Drivers
Accounting firms will look more holistically at the transactions or “events” that take place at each stage of the client engagement and discover new ways to improve efficient delivery of multiple services. For example, a client’s accounting software notes a possible tax opportunity and pings it in the CPA’s system for discussion at a quarterly client check-in (which the system also scheduled). If the client’s attorney is also required for discussion, she is also invited to the meeting automatically.
- Adaptive Security
In addition to updating security protocols and avoiding employee error through training and better password protection, adaptive security systems in the future will be designed to anticipate security risks. One example is white-list based security that focuses on appropriate system behaviors and flags any abnormal or threatening behaviors not on the list. Also, comprehensive security integration will include security features in all new software development rather than as an add-on feature.
According to the 2017 Ponemon Institute Cost of Data Breach Study, the average size of data breaches in the U.S. alone is 24,000 records, valued at $3 million in average data value annually.
- Marketing Automation
Marketing automation tools are expanding to increase communication with leads and prospects without increasing non-billable time. These tools can manage digital campaigns and report on results, including the buying stage or level of interest by individual lead.
- Digital Recruitment
Many services are now available that allow accounting firms to submit position notices electronically, using keywords to search talent databases for specific job titles and skills. However, firms will seek to improve quality of hire analytics to narrow down candidate selection and reduce turnover.
- Social Selling
So far, social media has been used more heavily as a networking and marketing tool than an actual sales tool. Sites like LinkedIn are working to change that by emphasizing lead search and sales conversion tools for their paid subscribers. Social media will also evolve to support client communications and expansion of services (see “conversational platforms”).
- Content Marketing
Firms are getting more sophisticated at content marketing by driving potential clients toward niche-focused content and then keeping them interested through a series of ongoing communications. Content is increasingly personalized to the leads, nurturing those relationships toward real conversations and proposals.
Examples include using content such as a social post, an article or a website services page to draw visitors into a “conversation” with your website before they are ready to talk to a real person. Much of this type of campaign can be automated to allow visitors to do their research at any time of day, and they can even fill out a request for more information, which can be automated or sent to a real person for a follow-up call — depending on the stage of the buyer. As chatbots or agents become more sophisticated, they can also support this buyer research process for accounting firms.
- Value Pricing Systems
Accountants aren’t going away from tracking time as once recommended, simply because timesheets offer valuable data for practice management and performance. However, they are packaging more advisory services (and Client Accounting Services) based on a flat fee rather than hourly rate. They will look for ways to integrate time and billing software with their value-pricing system to monitor talent utilization and capacity against opportunity and profits.
Of these 10 technology movements, BKR International Executive Director Maureen Schwartz says right now member firms seem most excited about new content marketing technologies and technologies than will automate the marketing process.
“These are high on firm lists because leaders need to leverage technology to support the sales process. People are searching 24/7 for services, and so accounting firms need to show up in those search results and attract interest”, she said.
Security, she adds, also remains a top priority as firms continue to look for ways to protect client data and prevent security breaches.
Schwartz also says she expects that security investment and automated marketing will be priorities for small-to-mid-sized firms in particular — to manage risk and promote their services even through busy season.