- Or with great trust comes great responsibility
Trust in accountants is high, but to maintain the trust and become drivers of the future, they will have to meet high expectations
As the Open Data trend advances, accountants will be required to adapt and change their role to provide more advice to their clients. In this article, we’ll explore how trust is critical to this, and the types of changes coming to the accountant profession.
The old proverb ‘Trust arrives on a tortoise, but leaves on horseback’ describes the essence of trust and its vulnerability on point. Trust is essential for any kind of relationship, but for strategic relationships it is vital.
Trust is a cornerstone of what it is to be an accountant
Trust is a cornerstone of the accounting profession. For years accountants have built up trustful relationships with their business clients, becoming their number one trusted data custodians and advisors. The recent worldwide study ‘Evaluating trust in the Accountancy Sector’ run by Edelman Data & Intelligence for Chartered Accountants Worldwide confirms that the, already high, trust in accountants is continuously rising.
At 78%, accountants are considered to be the most trusted finance professionals for businesses.
But as they say - with great trust comes great responsibility. So while this is a comfortable position for accountants to be in, it is merely the starting point for their work of the future.
Accountants look after the most important and valuable data of their business clients. Throughout the last decades, their service scope has gradually expanded from classic compliance and tax work to more future-focused advisory services.
With the emergence of the Open Data trend, and the ever-growing volumes of information businesses have to deal with, accountants are challenged to continue to evolve their service portfolio to cater to the increasing demand for guiding advice.
This has only grown during the pandemic as accountants experienced an increasing duty to look after their clients. Let’s look at an example. When governments announced the release of Covid-19 related financial grants, many small businesses turned to their accountants for advice. Clients were asking their accountants to help them validate their suitability for a grant, which only accountants could provide by using up-to-date open data from the client’s accounting file.
For many small businesses, this has been the difference between making it through the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 and calling it quits.
Accountants have the trust put in them, to not only help businesses survive but help them drive. Open Data will present challenges and opportunities that small businesses cannot even foresee yet, and they will turn to their accountant to get the answers. The ‘Evaluating Trust in the Accountancy Sector’ study confirmed that 81% of the respondents are confident that accountants can navigate a new operating environment in the future.
More focus on purpose-led issues
The study also indicated an increasing need for accountants to serve as advisors in all aspects of ESG (environmental, social and governance).
70% of those surveyed see accountants as credible spokespeople on societal issues such as diversity, equity and inclusion, and also expect accountants to follow through by driving sustainable environmental practices within businesses.
Another area having a big impact on the future of accountancy is the vast array of emerging technologies. Technology will support but it won’t replace trust.
We can execute standardised transactions without trust, particularly when they are supported by robust technical infrastructure to help manage the quality, transparency and accountabilities required. However, future-forward, individual work cannot be achieved without trust. This requires human interaction. Trust will be the key differentiator in the client relationship.
To meet all these expectations, the role of the profession will have to change as the needs of their clients are changing. Accountants will have to have, more than ever before, proactively lead the communication with their clients. They will be expected to seed the conversation with different topics beyond classic compliance and tax work. When facing the opportunities of Open Data it will be important for accountants to set up the right services for their clients. The abundance of [now easily accessible] data will make it even more important to ask the right questions about the intended use of the data and to understand their client’s business model and strategy to help them use the data for decision making.
While many of the services are still to be defined, it is the intention of the Open Ledger Partnership to compile a guiding, inspiring framework for accountants to help to frame these questions for their clients. We want to help you understand the potential Open Data can provide, whether it is supporting clients to access sustainability-linked lending or providing cyber security audit service for clients.
Accountants have the trust that they are future-facing professionals with a licence to support in building a resilient and sustainable profession. But to maintain trust accountants must deliver on the promise. Profound knowledge, effective communication and customised services will be required to make sure there will be no horses heading off with trust.
Trust empowers us to make decisions. Join the Open Ledger Partnership, inform and educate yourself and use your transformational capabilities to build a better society, better organisation and better business.
“I don’t think there’s anyone better positioned to manage and govern data - that’s essentially what accountants have been doing as being accountants since the dawn of time.” Caroline Colley FCA, Non-Executive director at CA ANZ