How has technology changed accountancy and financial services industries?
Over the last decade, technology has made a significant impact to many different aspects of business operations across all industries, changing the way that we work. Finance services and accounting are no exception. Technology has provided financial services with faster software that is able to perform more complex functions, as well as integrating with third party products and services, making financial services easier and much more efficient. Organising financial information and analysing data has become much simpler indeed.
However, without good management and the right tools in place, workloads could be increased, having a good tool kit and the right policies and procedures in place can be the difference between success and failure.
In this blog, we will cover the technology, the collaboration tools, reporting, and other technologies that will help accountants and financial services streamline their day-to-day operations.
THE NEED TO WORK FROM ANYWHERE
Up until 2020, if you worked from home, you were in a minority. Then March 2020 hit and everything changed, with government-mandated stay at home orders, businesses shutting and the spread of COVID-19, ‘work from home’ become the norm for almost all office-based workers around the globe, those that had previously ignored the benefits of a home-based workforce, needed to find ways to enable remote working and to continue operating.
Microsoft Office 365, cloud-based conferencing platforms, and third-party integration with the use of automation and workflow tools, helped to make a seamless transition from office to home. These have helped accountants and financial services to manage and retrieve files more easily, distribute accounting information to multiple branches, and reduce file keeping expenses with just a laptop and internet connection.
In 2020, we saw many improvements to cloud-based platforms and communication technologies, which are empowering financial services with tools that help them to continue operating and manage a distributed workforce who are working from remote locations.
With a new hybrid workforce model becoming the new normal, as employees demand the flexibility to work from home, and the ability to set their own hours and reduce commute time, and businesses having a larger pool of talent to choose from, remote working is set to stay and be the preferred way to work for many, leading to reduced costs, and driving productivity and efficiency.
KEEPING DATA SECURE
Working from home presents a unique challenge for businesses since many employees do not have the same security measures in place that they would have in the office environment, these layers of security are often absent, which can leave a business open to an attack, securing company resources, the network and protecting employees should be high up on the do list, businesses should focus on the following areas:
- Determine which employees will have access remotely to confidential information
- Monitor how employees are using company-owned hardware and equipment, and implement measures to halt outsider threats and hackers
- Keep company assets in-tact and secured through regular data backups, data recovery, and information controls
Securing the company network when faced with an ever-growing edge, is not simple but with cyber-attacks, rising employees should also implement their own safeguards, here are a few tips for home workers.
- Use anti-virus and anti-malware software on all of your devices
- Switch-on the firewall on laptops and PC’s
- Make sure to keep the Operating system, and applications that you use up-to-date
- Use the built-in encryption software on your laptops and PC’s
- Backup all devices regularly
- Use a different device for personal and work when possible
- Don’t allow family members access to your work computer or smartphone
- Buy and install a webcam cover
- Use strong and secure passwords
HARDWARE – LAPTOPS AND HEADSETS
When you are working from home, it is important to use good equipment to be productive, the best laptops are reliable, portable, and robust and for accountants and financial services, a good laptop and headset are a necessity.
When considering what type of laptop and headset to buy, you need to consider the following components and features:
Type of operating system – We have never had as much choice when it comes to operating systems as we do now, whilst Windows-based machines are the most common, we also have Mac OS, Linux, and Chrome OS, the choice should be based on the compatibility of the applications that you will be using each day, your knowledge and whether you need to use the device offline at all.
Battery life – The most modern laptops can hold a charge for a day, and with regular visits to client’s sites, business meetings, and general running around, carrying around a charger is cumbersome and there is not always a socket available to re-charge, always look for a laptop that will hold a charge for at least 8 hours.
Processing power – The faster the processor, the faster the laptop can interpret and process tasks, this is especially beneficial when working with resource-hungry applications, do more in less time.
Headsets – If you are in and out of zoom calls, or perhaps make a lot of phone calls as part of your role, or it is noisy when you live, you really should look to invest in a good pair of headphones, here are a few tips on what to look for in a good pair of headphones.
If you switch from mobile device to laptop and back as well as wanting to use the headset as a microphone, it would be good to invest in a set that connects via Bluetooth and comes with a boom microphone that has a noise-cancelling circuitry to block out all sounds except for your voice, rather than via a cable connected version. If you don’t expect to make many calls but you want to keep out background noise distractions, look for noise-cancelling headsets. Active noise cancellation (ANC) headsets can be pricey, but they really will keep out noises from your kids, traffic, or even pets, normally these headsets are not as good for making calls as they don’t come with a boom microphone generally.
When we talk about software applications and technology in general accountants and financial services teams, the key areas for focus should be on document sharing, financial forecasting and automation tools.
OneNote is a type of digital notebook that replaces traditional pen and paper, as you work the notes automatically saves and syncs. OneNote is cross-platform supported and works on almost any device. With Outlook integration, you can organise tasks, taking meeting notes, and manage your content all in one place.
Microsoft SharePoint & OneDrive
SharePoint allows accountants and financial services teams to make information accessible to those that need it, anywhere, and at any time all from one central repository, allowing team members to easily collaborate, sync, save and share files with other team members. Not only that, but SharePoint is super flexible, allowing for file modification directly from a SharePoint site, from your personal OneDrive desktop folder, or via SharePoint tabs in a departments Teams channel. Alternatively, you can even edit and share directly through your downloaded desktop apps like Word and Excel. All changes that are being made by your peers is visible and you will always have the latest file version.
Teams need to stay in contact with each other, whether they are working from the office, home or another remote location, they need to still work effectively when they can’t meet face to face, which is of course super difficult and expensive if the team is spread across cities or even working from a different country. This is why having a collaborative tool is so important, as real-time communications is a must.
Microsoft Teams is a powerful chat-based collaboration platform combined with online video meetings, document sharing and lots of other useful features which comes free with Microsoft 365, so all users can enjoy the benefits of collaboration.
Microsoft Excel for Financial Modelling
Financial modelling is a very highly regarded skill in financial analysis. With the objective being to combine accounting, finance and business metrics to provide a representation of a company. Excel is used as the preferred tool for the designing process as it is seen to be the most customisable and flexible tool available today.
Combine Excel with the Power Platform and you really have a powerful platform to build many different types of financial models, visualise them and then share internally or externally.
Microsoft Power Platform
Power Platform empowers financial services and accountants with the ability to simplify the user experience and save time, by integrating multiple functions together which allow users to work with multiple data sources, this could be used to monitor financial markets, onboard clients or move data from one place to another, easily and quickly. Traditionally banks have many manual processes and legacy systems which can be replaced with the use of the Power Platform.
Microsoft Power Automate
Power Automate allows accountants and financial services to simultaneously update information across multiple systems, by automating those manual and repetitive tasks and processes, with little to no human input, can save you lots of time working with
PowerApps is a simple application development tool that requires little to no coding skills, it allows you to create user friendly visual interfaces that link back other elements of the Microsoft 365, great for data gathering spreadsheets, invoicing and updating customer information. An example would be to run a task that pulls out financial information from an Excel spreadsheet, then through a Power Automate connector logs into the Xero accountancy platform, inputs the data and then sends a message to the accountant to approve.
Working from home has challenges, so automating can really help to track work, improve communications between team members, and remove time-consuming administration work.
PowerBi is another powerful Microsoft tool that allows users to create interactive reports and dashboards that are easy to navigate around and look attractive. The great thing about PowerBI is that it allows anyone in your business to generate engaging reports and insights. Using connectors, PowerBi integrates seamlessly with the Microsoft suite and works extremely well with SharePoint as your repository.