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Can Computers Replace Human Accountants? We Doubt They Can

People remain paramount to the accountancy profession despite advanced modern technology and artificial intelligence. But accountancy is no longer just about financial statements and tax returns.

SAICA

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“The secret lies in embracing the technological advances without sacrificing the values and ethics that sustains and defines the profession,” says Jeanne Viljoen, Project Director: Practices at the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA).

“Don’t fear technology – embrace it and use it wisely. By embracing technology, the profession can provide deeper insight to their clients while helping them understand the rapidly approaching ‘new normal’ for business operations.”

The radical transformation of accounting

“It is no secret that accounting has been radically transformed by globalisation, digitisation and a growing amount of technological integration into business operations.

External disruptors, like the use of big data, the cloud and distributed ledger technology also affects the profession, but computers will never replace human interaction or advice.

Computers and algorithms may increase accuracy and can crunch numbers and vast amounts of information at increasing speed, but they have no feelings and cannot learn common sense or the ability to plan creatively. They also cannot deploy human judgement or professional scepticism,” Viljoen continues.

Related: From Local To Global: Bruce Mackenzie CA(SA) Shares Top Tips On Being A Successful Entrepreneur

This, paired with a human accountant’s technical knowledge and adherence to a global Code of Ethics and international standards applicable to certain types of engagement, offers vast new potential for accountants to accurately interpret data and develop insights that will underpin more valuable strategic recommendations for their clients.

The focus of accounting is changing

“While traditional services will continue to remain an important part of what accountants do, the focus will be different. The biggest benefit of using artificial intelligence (AI) instead of manual bookkeeping, is probably the time it frees up for accountants to provide strategic advice to businesses and organisations.

Real-time accounting can help small to medium businesses to take decisions when needed instead of waiting for months for financial statements.”

Correct analysis of business data is exactly what gives a business a competitive edge and help generate a higher profit margin.

“If, for instance, your company sell products online, software that enables you to determine when your customers are most active online will help you determine the best time to market to them. The correct technological systems and software can make your business lean and mean and will enable a total overview of your business at the press of a button.”

Related: Financial Management and Accounting Support for SMEs

This can prevent relatively small problems like absenteeism on certain days and over claiming on business trips to turn into big crisis situations.

“This is exactly where accountants will continue to play an important advisory role, because they are trained to analyse risks, and spot outliers, exceptions and trends.”

Accountants can also assist businesses and organisations with cyber security and successfully navigating their digital landscape, helping to avoid cyber fraud and the theft of personal information.

The future of accounting

Viljoen also referred to twelve predictions about the future of the accountancy profession made by Rob Nixon, an internationally renowned accountancy expert. These are:

  1. Compliance will be completely commoditised, meaning less “human” time spent on ensuring compliance.
  2. Cloud accounting will be installed in more than 90% of small- and medium-sized entities, because more and more people want their data and information on their mobile devices.
  3. More than 90% of accounting firms will have cloud practice management, as it improves efficiency and mobility and lowers operating costs.
  4. Coaches and consultants – even non-financial – will become competition for tomorrow’s accountant.
  5. Clients will be more transient because of cloud accounting. All that is required for data to be captured is a login code. This will result in tighter and more enduring relationships between client and accountant.
  6. Offshore teams will be more prevalent – cloud computing will enable your teams to work anywhere.
  7. Compliance prices will plummet, new systems costs will be reduced and financial reporting will be current.
  8. Marketing and sales skills will be needed – with commoditised services comes price pressure and new low-cost entrants into your market. Accountants will need to differentiate and give compelling reasons as to why clients should stay with them.
  9. Young people will not buy into staid and boring systems – they are not interested in old-fashioned systems/equipment and offices. Instead, they will be tech-savvy and will want progress faster than ever before.
  10. There will be no more time-based billing, but rather a valuation of the intellect that has taken many years to develop.
  11. The role of business advisor will result in more than 80% of an accountant’s revenue, as accountants can add a huge amount of value when they know the facts. Spending less time on compliance services will mean that an accountant will have more time to truly live up to the trusted advisor status that they deserve.
  12. Advanced technology will mean that clients are finally served properly with real-time data, resulting in the accountant adding real value to the business.

In the light of all of this, it is important for small to medium businesses to look critically at their digital strategy, she concludes. “You don’t need to buy the biggest, most expensive accountancy system. Look at your cash flow and needs and invest in a system that can grow with your business. Your accountant will be the best person to advise you on this.”

The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) is widely recognised as one of the world’s leading accounting institutes. As South Africa’s pre-eminent accountancy body, the Institute provides a wide range of support services to more than 38 000 members who are chartered accountants and hold positions as CEOs, MDs, (board) directors, business owners, chief financial officers, auditors and other leaders in their chosen spheres of business operations and public life. Most of these members operate in commerce and industry, and play a significant role in the nation’s highly dynamic business sector and economic development, but some are also employed in the public sector.

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Accounting & Payroll

Wilting Away – How To Boost Your Financial Management Team After The Big Financial Year-End

Is your finance team wilting after a gruelling financial year end? Here are some great ideas to help them bounce back.

Revel Africa

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Your finance team has put in long, back-breaking hours lately to ensure your business could close off the financial year. Aside from saying ‘thanks a lot’ here are some great ideas to breathe some fresh life into them, reconnect them with each other and with the business, and let them have some much-needed fun in the process.

Before we start, let’s clear up some misconceptions around team building events. When you think of team building, you probably think of awkwardly passing an orange squeezed between your chin and your neck at school, or awkwardly falling backwards into the arms of an embarrassed colleague at work.

This is why most people shy away at the thought of doing team building, because they fear embarrassment, or even worse, wasting their time. The source of the problem is that most HR departments and management view team building days as an activity-based agenda that will have a productivity-based ROI. Almost like a once-off fix – play games equals 12% increased productivity. However, they are mistaken.

According to the University of California: Team building is an ongoing process that helps a work group evolve into a cohesive unit. The team members not only share expectations for accomplishing group tasks, but trust and support one another, and respect one another’s individual differences.

So, we understand now that team building is:

  • A regularly recurring thing, not just a once-off activity
  • A combination of work, leisure, collaboration, problem solving and projects
  • Can be anything from a small picnic at work, to a weekend retreat.

When done well, team building is shown to make employees more co-operative, collaborative and, generally, more engaged in their work. According to Gallup’s findings on employee engagement in America, only 34.1% were engaged – which means a shockingly high percentage (nearly 70%) just couldn’t care less about their work.

us-employees-engagement

While team building has its flaws, it is still one of the best ways to drive employee engagement. With that in mind, here are some great ideas to improve your finance team’s engagement for the remainder of 2019.

1. Accounting game show

Use a popular game show format to share and quizz information in an engaging format.

1. Split the department into teams.
2. Use questions that the team can use in their everyday work. You can even throw in interesting facts about employees (with their permission of course), particularly positive stories about their finance careers or accomplishments.

2. Idea-sharing lunches

Dial it down a notch and take the team out to a restaurant of their choice, or – if you are choosing – to a place that serves good food, for a casual staff lunch.

Use this time as a general catch-up session as well as a platform for creative conversation. You can also use this time to have a SME (subject matter expert) share some insights into relevant topics that will empower the team, but this should not be the sole purpose of what is meant to be a relaxing lunch.

3. Shape it up

In this fun exercise team members need to arrange themselves to form shapes as they are called out.

  1. Divide the team into groups of 10 members.
  2. A game coordinator shouts out a shape (for example, a diamond) and the teams must form the shape quickly within a limited time frame (eg 5 seconds).

Begin with simple shapes get everyone comfortable, then start calling for more complex shapes like “an oval on top of a rectangle” or “square inside a triangle.” Communication and cooperation are vital here to successfully form the shapes.

Ofcourse, the team that forms the shape first wins. The larger the group the more challenging the game is.

4. Guess the word

This tried and trusted game is where team members must guess a word that is pinned on a hat that they are wearing and cannot see, while the other members of the team try to explain it to them without saying the word.

  1. Bring a hat or cap, slips of paper, tape, marker.
  2. Write several mystery words on slips of paper, each word big enough to be read from two meters away.
  3. Split the teams into two.
  4. Start with the first team. One member wears the cap with the word taped onto the front.
  5. The one wearing the cap must guess the word by asking a series of questions within a minute.

The ones who know the word can only answer yes, no or maybe.The one wearing the cap must be able to deduce the word within the allotted time.

The team that gets to answer a mystery word fastest wins. Mystery words can be related to the company’s business, staff or completely random items.

5. Game of possibilities

Laughter, bonding and problem solving are all part of the team building experience. This game is ideal for both.

But first, it’s the rules of this game that make it fun! They are:

  • The person may not speak while making his or her demonstration
  • The person must stand while demonstrating
  • The demonstration must be original

Here’s how it works:

  1. Give a paperclip to groups of 5 to 10 participants.
  2. A person from each group takes turns to demonstrate a novel way to use the paperclip that has nothing to do with its intended purpose.

As you can see, this game can be used with other office items as well, instead of a paperclip (e.g., pen, water bottle, telephone, etc). Hopefully, your team will think up new and unusual uses for everyday objects and translate this experience to creating new ways to solve problems, use resources or motivate a team.

6. Campfire stories

This classic activity inspires storytelling and improves team bonding. Storytelling is at the heart of the community experience, and can get a large group to loosen up and share their experiences, and know each other a little better. Here’s how:

  1. Gather teams of 6 – 20 participants into a circle.
  2. Use a set of trigger words to kickstart a storytelling session, words like “first day”, “work travel”, “partnership”, “side project”, etc. Add these to sticky notes.
  3. Divide a whiteboard into two sections and stick all the sticky notes from above on one side of the whiteboard.
  4. Invite a participant to choose one trigger word from the sticky notes and use it to share an experience. They then stick their sticky note on the other side of the whiteboard.
  5. As the participant is sharing his/her story, ask the others to note words that remind them of similar work-related stories. Add these words to sticky notes and paste them on the whiteboard.
  6. Repeat this process until you have a “wall of words” with interconnected stories.

Always have a clear ‘why’

Whether you take your team away for a retreat, or simply do an on-site breakaway, be sure to have a clear understanding as to why you are doing this, and what goals you want to achieve through these activities. Otherwise you might fall into the ‘doing activities simply for the sake of activities’ trap. Remember, it’s always about making your team feel more connected to each other, and to the business.

You could consider involving some team members in the planning process, and over time, you’ll find which strategies are the best fit with your team. Schedule team-building exercises on a regular basis to maintain a more content and productive team. These activities will become a part of your office culture, and can help to promote retention.

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Accounting & Payroll

How To Strategically Minimise Accounting Costs As A Start-up

“Financial Compliance can be a costly exercise when approached carelessly”.

Kenlin Stride

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As a practicing accountant one of the most common phrases uttered by clients is that “I will get to my accountant when I can afford one”. The reality is your accountant costs can be minimised when you applying some simple tricks to avoid being charged an arm and a leg.

I have compiled a few areas where you can streamline your business to minimise your businesses accounting fees. Please bear in mind these are guidelines and a consultation with your accountant will still serve you best.

1. The ‘Shoe Box’ strategy is dead and gone

The shoe box is a box filled with all your company and supplier invoices jumbled into one box. As an accountant when faced with the shoe box we smile because now we get to charge our hourly rate doing admin that could have been done by either you the business owner or one of your employees. Accountants make a large portion of their turnover from doing admin that could have been avoided if business owners had more foresight.

2. Separate personal from business transactions

Nothing is more time consuming for an accountant then having to comb through a business income and expenses only to realise through consultation with the client that personal items were accounted for as business income or expenditure.  As a rule of thumb remove all personal income and expenditure from your business in totality.

Related: Financial Management and Accounting Support for SMEs

3. Record keeping! Record keeping! Record keeping!

Simple record keeping can be your best friend in reducing costs. Here are a few guidelines to live by:

  • As pointed out in Number 3 have a separate bank account for business and another for personal
  • Date and Number your invoices, sounds simple but very few start-ups put emphasis on this administrative function.
  • Provide complete statements for the period requested by your accountant for your credit card and bank statements.
  • Keep supplier statements as this will aid your accountant especially during the financial year end of your business.
  • When submitting your debit/ card receipts and there is no accompanying invoice list on those receipts what was purchased.

4. Ask your accountant for a Retainer Agreement

A retainer agreement is a great way to ensure your monthly accounting costs do not fluctuate. With a traditional agreement your fees may spike when it is your company’s financial year end or when your taxes are due. With a retainer agreement your able to budget for a set figure payable monthly. This also translates to an attractive for your accountant who can now rely on a guaranteed cash flow injection monthly.

The bases for an accountants pricing will involve what their hourly rate is , the longer they spend on doing record keeping and deciphering what activities took place in your business the more you will be charged. Remember regardless of how close you are with your accountant or how simple you feel your business structure is your accountant will need as much information as possible to represent your business activities accurately on your financial records.

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Accounting & Payroll

Technology In Accounting – Race For Relevance

Change is not just coming, it’s already here and the rate of change is growing exponentially.

ACCA

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Change is not just coming, it’s already here and the rate of change is growing exponentially. The recent research from ACCA around the race for relevance talks of six key technologies (Analytics, Artificial intelligence, Cloud computing, Cyber, Social and Robotic process automation), likely to present opportunities that challenge our traditional ways of working to all businesses, including SMEs – as well as their finance function.

The report explains that whatever the size of the business, technology change is having an impact.

It is imperative for SMEs to understand these technologies and start to, at least, plan. Failure to capture opportunities runs the risk of businesses being marginalised.

Technological advances provide finance functions with significant opportunities to play a valued role in maximising the organisation’s strategic ambitions and in how it is evolving. Not of all the key technologies may be relevant to all immediately, however, understanding which of them apply and can deliver value, is important.

Related: Want To Know Your Numbers? 3 ACCA Accounting Online Courses Your Can Take For Free

In this corporate race for future relevance, recognising the opportunity is essential.  Organisations are in a race to remain relevant to their customers and communities. Adapting and embracing technological changes in business is critical. Companies who leverage new technology well are going to win big in business. If CFO’s are to remain in decision making roles the need to understand the importance of data analytics is crucial. Businesses need forward thinking CFO’s who:

  • understand how to use the information available to them to provide strategic insight in real time;
  • capture, measure, report and predict future performance in a much more agile manner to support better and quicker decision making;
  • ensure they have in place effective and efficient processes that satisfy the overall business requirements of finance.

This is not to say that there is one approach. No single model fits all finance teams but there is an overall direction of travel. However, its not enough to become more efficient, but finance function must assist businesses to make decisions based on the right data. To achieve the goal of transforming the finance function, the CFO needs an understanding of the emerging technologies and the opportunities available. The CFO must ensure that there is sufficient governance of the data sources, be these internal or externally generated, to provide insights based upon ‘one version of the truth’.

Related: 4 Accounting Online Learning Courses From ACCA You Can Take For Free

In realising the finance technology strategy, it should be remembered that this is often a partnership between the Information Technology (IT) team and the finance function. As business partnering has affected the relationship between finance and its customers so the same process can be replicated in the relationship between finance and IT.

By 2020, organisations are expected to gain $1.2 trillion in business from their slower-to-adapt peers. How do you, as the accounting professional, influence this today? How do you work with IT to thrive in this age of change?

 

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