Accounting Technology: The Best and Worst of Times

If a week is a long time in politics, six months covering accounting technology might reasonably be considered an “age.”

It’s been half a year since my return to AccountingWEB UK, and such has been the pace of change that articles from January seem tinged with nostalgia, and occasionally regret for what might have been – expense management tools anyone?

The blizzard of news in accounting tech has been as broad as it has been frequent: the rise and fall of crypto, a boom in practice automation and workflow tools, IRIS on the acquisition trail, cybercrime hitting the accounting sector where it hurts, and the IRS struggling to keep pace with it all.

So, what does the accounting technology landscape look like? To go ‘the full Dickens,’ it seems to be the best of times and the worst of times for accountants. In many ways, we’re in a golden age of accounting tech.

For starters, it’s never been easier to open your own firm. That’s not to say it’s easy – far from it – but with just a laptop, an Internet connection, a bit of startup cash and some elbow grease you can get cracking. Systems out there allow you to work from anywhere, anytime, pull in client information at the touch of a button, move it around your system and file it at will.

But at the same time, looking at the bewildering range of options available to accountants, the hype vs the reality and the speed of change in areas like cryptocurrency and the metaverse, you could forgive accountants an envious glance into the simpler times of the past.

And then there’s how technology is positioned in the overall industry. One of the biggest changes I’ve experienced since rejoining AccountingWEB UK has been how my writing is perceived, processed and reacted to.

Articles in my previous, more general, roles now seem a bit of a slam-dunk – preaching to the converted, if you will. A quick slapdown to the tax authorities? Bravo sir! A wagging finger at the latest Big Four escapades there – boo! Local government taken your dog away? Woof!

But technology coverage is a different beast. Depending on your role in the profession, you see things quite differently. I’m either a wide-eyed patsy for the software industry or a hard-bitten cynic mowing down the dreams of a dozen new Steve Jobs.

From my perspective, it’s my job to report on new companies or products, look at what they do and what problems they purport to solve in the context of the overall market, ask difficult questions and occasionally offer a bit of commentary. 

But a healthy dose of scepticism is, of course essential. I provide my take, and AccountingWEB’s readers fill in what I’ve missed along the way. Accountants are, after all, professional cynics. 

The 24-month spend cycle for accountants is very real, with the industry understandably cautious when it comes to change. This approach couldn’t be better illustrated by the recent shuttering of ClearSpend. It takes to time to research a new system – trialling and implementing it, training your staff and clients, taking to social media to tell everyone how wonderful it is. But if it then happens to vanish, or pivot to a new sector, you’re the one left looking daft in front of your clients. 

A vendor I spoke with recently told me it took one accountant six years of watching to even start a conversation with them. At every in-person event, webinar or posting they’d loiter around the edges, and only made contact once they were totally happy with what they saw. “I wanted to make sure you’d stick around,” was the only explanation they gave. 

Can this pace of tech change continue unabated? Will new arrivals continue to offer themselves up as ritual sacrifices to the AccountingWEB comment gods? Keep watching this space to find out. 

In the meantime, keep the (constructive) feedback coming and here’s to another six months on the accounting tech merry-go-round.

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