How disruption is creating a “No-Choice Future” for some firms.
By Hitendra Patil
The dictionary defines “uber” as a superlative example of its kind or class. The word Uber, derived from German language, means “over” or “beyond”.
You may have heard of the Uberization of the taxi cab hiring industry, or of room rentals via AirBnB, and other such services. That was made possible because of phenomenal leaps in Internet and mobile device technologies.
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The companies, using new but still well-established technologies, are simply focusing on existing industries, simplifying them, and creating a faster, better, stronger, convenient and, more often than not, cheaper process.
Accounting’s fundamental business model has not changed in more than 100 years. And this very fact makes accounting indeed a perfect candidate for Uberization. Albeit, with some caveats. In fact, the stealth-Uberization of accounting is already happening in at least four ways:
1. Uberization of Accounting Technology:
You have already seen a major push towards cloud tech, hosted software and integration of utility software with accounting “platforms." The “service delivery” has been Uberized to a large extent. Going are the days of clients waiting for paper documents to arrive from the accountant’s office.
2. Uberization of Talent Sourcing:
“Mobilty," or the ability to work from places other than “firm’s office” is increasing continuously. Accounting firms are able to hire people who may not be required to come to the office every day, yet deliver great services. Talent sourcing is seeing the demolition of geographic boundaries.
3. Uberization of Sales and Marketing:
Haven’t you got new clients from social media or from your website, yet? If not, you want to Uberize your sales and marketing, like right now! Even referrals are moving to the world of Internet and social media.
4. Uberization of Processes and Procedures:
From paper to scanned copies by email, the process of getting source documents from clients changed pretty quickly. But “arranging” those e-documents remained a manual process. Not anymore. There are automated solutions now available that periodically login to client accounts, fetch statements and place them in the right folders, making not just some of the internal processes and procedures at accounting firms, but also some administrative roles obsolete.
All this is already happening, perhaps in not very conspicuous ways – call it “stealth” Uberization.
What are the Uberization implications for accounting firms and practitioners?
Let's take a look at opportunities first:
1. Profit from multiple points of sale:
Don’t you like it when your bank’s ATM or branch is nearby, always? So why should your clients travel to your firm’s office? Arguably the biggest impact of Uberization will be profit growth through more locations of your presence. With “mobile talent," your firm’s services can be delivered wherever your employees are. They are like your new “points of sale," many more than just one or two offices.
2. Wider access to talent and skills:”
In the increasingly connected world, you are already connected with talent and skills that you do not have now or when you need them as situations demand. Building relationships with such talent will help you meet evolving needs of clients, on demand!
3. Lower rent or lease payments:
Physical office space will not be as required as in the past. With high capacity cloud technology NOT sitting in your office, with “mobile talent” working for you, with literally free and easy video calls, you should be able to do with much lesser office space.
4. More face-time with clients and prospects:
As key accounting technology platforms embrace open architecture, more and more of relevant data will start flowing automatically without much manual intervention. The time that you spend now in handling and making sense from such data and information will suddenly be available to you – and you would want to use that for more face-time with clients and prospects.
As data and information increasingly manage itself, an accounting professional’s role will distinctly change from that of “production” (of accounting information) to “insights leverage strategist."
Threats of Uberisation:
You may have heard from your mentors in the profession how they used to “manually” handwrite information to prepare tax returns. As “knowledge” became more and more “equally available” to more and more people, it started commoditizing the pricing for services. Also, technology evolved all the time to “move” information-based decision-making to software. If you think only the simple yes/no decisions based on common information moved on to software, just wait for the new breed of technologies to get unleashed onto the marketplace.
While notionally you will remain in charge of the accounting data and information for your clients – which means your current “work” will not disappear overnight, what your clients expect from you (and hence what they will pay you for) will certainly change, significantly and more likely, quicker than you might anticipate. Your clients will no longer select you only for the services or specific solutions you can provide to their specific problems but they will select you for your ability to facilitate fulfillment of their other needs through your network of specialist service providers, unless you develop all those skills yourself. Why?
Because Uberization essentially simplifies access and the process of getting routine needs fulfilled. And hence, people will go to experts and specialists preferably to get comparatively complex things done. And accounting professionals will compete in geographies that they have no physical office presence.
Accountants' Strategy for Future
As more and more work that now constitutes your billable hours gets moved “in-house” at clients’ offices or onto technology, you want to move yourself from traditional services onto fulfilling new needs of clients and solving the new problems that clients will have.
As T. Harv Eker says - Success is not a “What.” it’s a “Who.”
For you as an accounting firm or professional, the “what” (technology, reports, accounting, tax rules, etc.) will become increasingly same as your competitor’s. The difference will be “who” delivers a tangible difference from the sameness.
That “who” could be you. It had better be you; not your competitor.