21 Dec, 2020
2020 certainly was a year to remember for accountants, bookkeepers, and business advisors, but what's in store for 2021?
Predicting the future isn’t easy. It’s a fair bet that no one would have predicted 12 months ago just how chaotic and costly a pandemic would be for the global economy.
And as we come to terms with COVID’s impact, we asked several leading accountants around the world what are the three most important issues facing accountants today. Here’s what they had to say.
Automation within accounting: the continued use and growth of AI and machine learning is leading automation within the accounting industry. The challenge for accountants in 2021 will be in the successful upskill, deployment and use of these tools and utilising change management to not rely on old practices.
IT literacy: The evolution of cloud technology broadening our skillset has been apparent for some time. However, being agile and proficient in cloud technology, becoming more IT literate and the increasing requirement of IT upskilling for accounting roles creates an additional challenge (albeit fun!) to what it means to be an accountant in 2021.
Wellbeing: Accountants, as trusted advisors, are critical intermediaries and most clients share much more than their tax returns with their accountants. We’re often the first to detect signs of stress amongst clients and more often than not, want to carry that stress for them. The challenge for 2021 will not only be with realigning accountants with their own health and wellbeing, but also in providing industry training to equip accountants. They need the tools to confidently converse around clients' wellbeing, and have arrangements in place to refer clients to professional support if required.
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Uncertainty: Continuing uncertainty and unknown regulatory changes mean that we cannot expect to have the perfect answers available fast enough.
Insights: Providing timely insights to clients and helping them pivot as needed to regain their financial footing.
People: Finding and retaining people who have the skills required to address the first two points.
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Cash flow: Supporting clients through Q1 and Q2 as tax payments come due, last year's VAT is due, CRJS ends, landlords want to go back to quarterly rent and CBILs and BB loans start to come due.
Uncertainty: I think there will be a lot of uncertainty around how long furlough and other measures last as COVID continues to be around. That, coupled with Brexit in January will be sure to prove a formidable combination for some businesses.
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Talent: One of the biggest challenges is probably attracting and retaining the best talent. As we move into a ‘new normal’, we see a marketplace where accountants can work more remotely, with fewer limits on geographical location and set working hours. This, combined with the fact that more and more accountancy roles are becoming available, means there’s a higher demand for qualified accountants.
Brexit: There is a significant challenge Brexit represents from a compliance perspective. We’ll need to consider the changes to freedom of movement for staff - both in terms of recruitment and existing employees; VAT MOSS; Import Duty; and the administrative issues faced by those who trade with - or in - Europe. The unique and uncertain circumstances surrounding Brexit will be a big challenge for our industry, and many others, in 2021.
The future of accounting in 2021
So it seems many of the problems that existed 12 months ago – better training, more tech uptake, flexible working, improving emotional skills – are still with us. The COVID economic impact has simply brought them front and centre.
As an industry working at the sharp end of the economy, we’ll have to wait another 12 months and see how well we faced these challenges – watch this space.
Written by Andrew Webb
Andrew is Fathom’s Content Strategist based in the UK. He has a background in journalism and has worked for companies like the BBC and HuffPost, as well as start ups in education and technology. Andrew has also published 5 food books and makes a great pie.