Revealed: Accounting insiders weigh-in on the trends to watch for 2019

Every year thousands of accountants and finance professionals from around the UK flock to Accountex to discover the best new product innovations and the latest trends for the year ahead.

The UK’s biggest finance and accounting event of the year, which will take place on 1-2 May at ExCeL London, boasts an impressive education program featuring great content from some of the industry’s most inspiring thought-leaders.

With over 200 CPD-accredited Keynotes, seminars and workshops running across 13 theatres over two days, Accountex visitors have an exclusive opportunity to gain up-to-the-minute insights on the trends that are shaping and disrupting the profession.

So what will 2019 bring to the table? Ahead of the show, Accountex’s organiser Diversified Communications spoke to some regular attendees for their insights about the next big thing in the accounting industry. Here’s what they had to say:

Chris Downing, director of product management at Sage:

Artificial Intelligence (AI) still has so much to give – it’s only just the beginning especially within this sector. AI can reimagine processes and enhance the client and accountant relationship beyond what it is now – bringing untapped business insights and recourses to the fore, enabling the accountant to deliver greater value and advice than ever before.

Our own research (Practice of Now, Sage, 2018) has shown that the majority – 66% – of accountants would invest in AI if it automated time-consuming and repetitive tasks. But AI is so much more; from machine learning to natural language processing, such as voice-based AI – this allows machines to sense, comprehend, act and learn. It can give better access to and understanding of big data, help to boost productivity and give an enhanced customer experience.

Alex Davis, business development and UK MTD lead at Intuit QuickBooks:

The fast-approaching Making Tax Digital (MTD) deadline on March 31 this year is a huge moment for accountants and their clients. The government has implemented the new system to modernise tax processes and improve businesses’ engagement with HMRC. As a result, many companies will start to make the jump to new technologies such as cloud accounting, AI and automation.

Amanda Watts, co-founder and managing director of TwentyTwo Agency:

Many are talking about Automation and AI which will be scaring some firms even more so than MTD did. Whilst this will be the next big thing, I truly believe those firms who are leveraging automation and AI to enhance and build relationships will be the ones that thrive. Let’s not ignore the fact that the world is made up of humans. Once firms understand that technology is a tool and still needs the human touch… the profession will evolve and thrive.

Glenn Collins, head of technical advisory at ACCA UK:

There will be a big demand from businesses for ‘immediate’ solutions. We see firms harnessing technology and new tools to become more pro-active and rise to the challenge of meeting these expectations. Many firms are finding new ways to use tech to both cut the time spent on compliance and also glean new insights into clients and their prospective client base. Such insights help entrench them as a vital – and trusted – adviser to their clients.

Rob Brown, founder and CEO of BD Academy:

The war for talent is the next big thing in accounting. When I ask guests on my Accounting Influencers podcast what they see as the biggest issue for growing firms, it’s finding the right people to drive growth. Recruiting and retaining good people will be at the heart of any growth strategies. Firms will need specialists in niches, in technology, in advising and coaching, in leading and managing and in key technical areas. Data analytics and machine learning will be hot. Only the leaders who can set vision and attract the right people will gain a significant competitive advantage for their companies in 2019.

Helen Thornley, technical officer at ATT:

2019 is a notable year as it marks one hundred years since the professions were opened to women with the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919. While some more progressive accountancy bodies had already started to admit women before this date, it was not until this Act that the ICAEW finally allowed women to train to become Chartered Accountants. I’ve been researching the career of Ethel Watts, the first woman to pass the ICAEW’s exams, and am looking forward to speaking about her during 2019.

Richard Brewin, co-owner of Progress BB:

With digital disruption driving much needed change in the profession I think it will be the new look and structure of accountancy firms that will be the most strikingly different when we look back in the future. Firms will have moved from the ‘silo’ thinking, deadline driven practices of the 20th century to a much more fluid, client focused model built around the client relationship and delivery.

Although far fewer than today in number, these firms will have significant online services delivery for the many running in tandem with a high quality, high value specialist personal service for the few and backed up by diversified range of wider business support services. Client need will be everything but a re-education of those clients will finally have brought fees into line with value and a much more balanced relationship.