COVID-19 has become a catalyst for digitalisation in many jobs. Due to the crisis businesses have to act faster, more dynamic and agile today and therefore need deep data insights available at any time to respond to challenges and growth opportunities. Finance and accounting are also affected as the Gartner CFO survey from October 2020 reveals: Top priorities for many CFOs have the implementation of advanced data analytics and robotic process automation technologies in 2021.

The job description of accountants will change in future

It seems that the biggest challenges to a successful digital transformation are not investment or the most appropriate technologies, but the lack of technology skills and the internal resistance of employees in many companies. They are skeptical, have prejudices and even fears. This permeates all the way up to the executive floors. After all, the accountants of the future will need completely different skills: They will no longer have to type in invoice numbers and bank data or laboriously fill out Excel spreadsheets; instead, they will have to be familiar with the installed software, and will have to control, monitor and maintain the digital systems. They should be able to check and optimise the new computer-controlled processes in accounting.

The accountants should be skilled enough to interpret the data correctly, derive strategic action plans from the available data and formulate company forecasts for future developments, says Magnus Bilke, CEO of DONE!Financials. They will therefore increasingly assume responsibility in the area of data analysis and management consulting. In principle this means a complete new job description for accountants in the next coming years. Among their new skills should be data science, analytical and strategic thinking, business consultancy and leadership.

This requires today’s accountants to have the courage and openness to give up cherished routines, to be motivated to learn new things, to work in a self-responsible and self-organised manner in the future.

The important role of HR in the digital transformation

The digital transformation should be viewed as one of the core company processes and be supported by C-level management and the HR team. In this change management process, HR forms the bridge between the management’s vision and the practical work of the accountants. This is the biggest challenge: to align the management with the people. The goal for HR is to take everyone with you; making sure everyone understands what is happening and why this is the case. This is crucial for a successful digital transformation.

You won’t get very far without the support of a motivated team. Employees live these changes and must adapt to new situations quickly, says Janet Haupka, Managing Director at DONE!Berlin. That is why the HR team also needs to listen to the accountant team to get a deeper understanding of the employees’ resistances and fears. In addition, we should understand who will be the likely doubters or opponents of the digital transformation. HR will speak to blockers on a personal 1:1 level and help them to develop a positive attitude to the digital transformation.

Moreover, HR will identify opinion leaders who are motivated by the upcoming changes. HR will involve these positive thinking opinion leaders and position them as role models to increase their positive influence on all employees. The key to success is not bossing the accountants around, but rather enabling them to accept the new changes, to feel responsible and to feel motivated to implement them themselves, adds Janet.

Furthermore, HR will ensure that processes, structures and communication work hand-in-hand during the digital transformation. And of course, HR will take care that the accounting team is reskilled and trained. In addition, new hires will already have these new needed skills and bring them into the team. Clear goals, KPIs and even bonus-drivers can also support the digital transformation.

The matching corporate culture has to be in place

In an ideal working world top management and HR continuously strive to develop a corporate culture where employees are open to changes or even understand change as a permanent condition. If HR wants to make sure that a fitting corporate culture is in place, they will prepare an employees’ assessment before the process of the digital transformation starts. Through the assessment, HR will identify the current culture and its leading values and the possible culture gaps for the digital transformation.

To implement the desired corporate culture you have to drive changes at all levels, including the organisation, processes, leadership, engagement, internal communication, meeting structure, team building, benefits, employer branding, feedback culture, recruiting, on-boarding, performance management, job leveling, coaching and off-boarding.

If you need any support with your digital transformation in accounting, get in contact with Magnus Bilke (magnus@donefinancials.com).