Preparing for the business world of tomorrow

The tax sector is not always seen as the most glamorous, but it obviously has a major role to play in ensuring that businesses operate in an effective manner.

The move towards making the finance function a strategic business partner is well underway, as companies recognise the value of enshrining financial accountability in the decision making process.

It means that tax experts can become a central part of business planning, provided they can demonstrate their ability to interact with key stakeholders.

Research by the ICAEW has underlined the progress being made in this area, as 48 per cent of businesses said they now regard their accountant as their most trusted business adviser, putting them well ahead of bankers (six per cent) and lawyers (three per cent).

"The perception among businesses is that accountants are there for a narrow piece of work: getting out the accounts and doing the tax, whereas actually the reality is accountants have a whole heap more to offer and a strong skillset that can support businesses into growth." ICAEW member department director Amanda Digne-Malcolm told the International Accounting Bulletin.

This highlights the impressive professional standing attached to financial professionals, and means they are ideally placed to push forward and deliver real improvements in the quality of service being provided.

So how can finance professionals ensure they are prepared for tomorrow?

Build the right skillset
Rigorous professional training means finance professionals have a wide range of analytical and technical skills, and these can be used to help foster growth for businesses. However, with the pace of technological change showing no sign of slowing down, it is important that the finance function is capable of dealing with high-value client needs. This means having leadership abilities, being great communicators, showing business acumen and being able to solve problems.

Diversity of services
Regulatory changes and economic pressures mean that firms need to be much more strategic with the issue of client retention. Part of this process is making it clear what services they can offer aside from the traditional tax arrangements. For example, financial experts can help with outsourcing, succession planning and sustainability reporting.

Embrace technology
Technology is everywhere and so professionals have to find out how it can improve service delivery. A study by Wolters Kluwer has found the process of going from initial client engagement through invoicing to getting the cash in the bank can be reduced by ten days through the use of technology. Mobile working practices mean people can be contacted outside of office hours, while technology such as videos and social media can also be used to make communications more interactive.

Firms need to turn their backs on rigid work patterns to embrace the globalised nature of business today. The key to exploiting the opportunities presented by these changes is to be viewed as a strategic partner. But do not forget that companies will always want to work with people who understand their business, and can relate to them on both a client and individual level.