This story is published in the 2018 July/August issue of CPA Voice.
By Jessica Salerno, OSCPA senior content manager
The role of the accountant is changing. That’s the first thing Michael Shultz, CPA, wants you to know.
“Now we’re being asked to be more strategic advisers with the rest of our business,” said the Blackline director of finance transformation. “We’re asked to have the proverbial seat at the table. Whether its executives or department heads contemplating a transaction or progressing through one, purchasing equipment, or starting a new business line, our workplaces are asking us to advise the direction they should go.”
As the accounting role continues to evolve beyond the “number cruncher” stereotype, an important partner to that evolution is technology, and more specifically, using it to your advantage. Shultz will present “Technological Integration” at the Accounting Technology Conference on Aug. 28, where he’ll discuss how to use technology to integrate financial data into strategy-driving insights.
Shultz warned against falling victim to the “same as last year” or SALY, mentality that repeats the same processes and procedures without looking into how they can be improved. Just because it’s what your predecessor or department has always done does not mean it makes sense even today or in the future at your organization.
Identify the routine processes and tasks that you can automate to enable you to engage in more analytical work.
“We need to integrate technology into our day to day accounting work, which will allow us to both automate some of what we do and ultimately enable us to do a lot of the other things faster that we are being asked,” Shultz said.
He mentioned account reconciliation and journal entries as prime examples of tasks that can be automated. When exploring opportunities to employ automation, ask yourself where you can best focus your time to add the most value to the organization, then automate as many routine tasks as possible.
Part of breaking down the SALY mentality means eliminating departmental silos. They impede your organization from performing at its peak when departments aren’t exchanging information with each other regularly.
When it comes to removing silos, one of the biggest obstacles is the “business as usual,” approach, Shultz said. People are creatures of habit, and they might not warm to the idea of changing how they’ve always operated. Various departments might be resistant to folding in the accounting staff because they’re wary of adding another perceived layer of complexity to their processes.
For example, Shultz said, the sales team might interpret a group of numbers differently than their accounting coworkers and be hesitant to share that with the accounting team in fear of “looking bad.” Another department might feel including the accountants will slow them down as they wait for yet another person to review their work.
Although there will be bumps in the road in the beginning, when it comes to eliminating silos, the payoff will be huge.
“As accountants break down the silos, they’ll have better insight into what’s going on in the business,” Shultz said. “All too often accountants find out about a transaction after the fact. But with the silos broken down, we’re hearing about information sooner and can plan and account for things earlier.”
Leverage your technology
Having access to the latest tools is great, but it means nothing if the information provided isn't helping to inform the overall strategy.
“We can do more than just look at debits and credits,” Shultz said. “Ultimately we’ll be able to advise on what the bottom line is going to look like, how profit is going to change, and how cost is going to change by entering into whatever transaction and by that we’re able to advise.”
Organizations that aren’t interested in breaking down silos or integrating their technology will pay dearly. Shultz cited a statistic from Forrester Research from 2017 that predicted companies that are "insights-driven" will steal $1.2 trillion worth of businesses per year from their less-informed peers by 2020.
He also cited how a lack of integration can reduce a company's ability to attract and retain top talent. You want the best people working for you, and professionals won’t stay on for long if they know other companies are years ahead when it comes to department communication and their technology.
Accountants are not always the most welcoming of change, Shultz said, and aren’t necessarily looking for it in the future. This is especially true if the organization hasn’t had to change any of its operating processes or technology in a significant way for a long time.
But just because you aren’t looking for change, doesn’t make you immune to it. In fact, just the opposite: you could become a victim when you ignore the inevitable. And change doesn’t have to darken your doorstep if you’re prepared to embrace it. Bringing in and using technology will make your business thrive and give you a crucial leg up on your competition.
“I want people to know the accounting profession is evolving and don’t be afraid of that,” Shultz said. “You need to be prepared to embrace that change.”
To register for the Accounting Technology Conference and hear more from Shultz and other business leaders, go to ohiocpa.com/ATC18.