Starting in 2018, Botkeeper asked firm accountants and leaders a short series of four questions. Since then, we’ve managed to poll more than 9,000 individuals on those same four questions, giving us both snapshots in time and trends across the past four years.
For some time, three major contributors to changes in accounting firms have had an outsized effect: technology, outsourcing, and the rise of advisory services. “Traditional” firm models are under sustained assault from all three of these, challenging firm relevance and even survival.
In our Four Simple Questions Report, we asked those 9,000 individuals the following questions:
1. What is your firm’s disposition regarding bookkeeping?
Bookkeeping is one of the most basic services firms can offer, so it does a good job as a stand-in for other transactional and compliance-focused tasks that compose the basics of firm services. As firms continue moving toward Client Advisory Services (CAS) with more intention, their treatment of these basic services is key; not only does it provide a pool of likely candidates for CAS, it also feeds the firm a steady, reliable stream of data on client success.
2. What is the biggest threat to your business’ growth?
The sea change in the accounting world is tossing new challenges at firms all the time. What are firms seeing overall as the standout challenges? The answers we received here tell volumes about what steps firms need to take to secure their positions in an increasingly competitive market, as well as what presumptive threats aren’t having as big an effect on firms as one might have thought.
3. Describe your knowledge of AI, ML, and RPA.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has a tendril in just about every business these days, and with the rise of ChatGPT, those tendrils are only multiplying. Of course, Botkeeper has been making use of Machine Learning (ML), a subset of AI, for years to automate bookkeeping tasks. So our interest here obviously isn’t entirely selfless. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is another important part of accounting firm automation options. In all, you might be surprised by firms’ understanding and use of these concepts, which are already central to any firm wishing to remain relevant and competitive.
4. What keeps you up at night most?
Threats are one thing. Reality is another. Firms might see what’s on the horizon, but dealing with the complexities of the now clearly has more immediacy. Some of the answers here will surprise you — firms’ biggest heartburn isn’t necessarily coming from where you might expect, and — at least from our perspective — might not be focused as sharply as it should be on certain aspects of running a firm in 2023.
Contextualizing the questions by year
Prior to presenting these questions and how firms answered them, the report takes the time to contextualize 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022 with some of the major events that influenced firms for each of those years — this helps set the scene for the answers we received.
Privacy and Security
Legislation, major breaches, and trends in work are all aspects of privacy and security we attempted to sum up briefly for each year to provide a frame of reference for each year’s answers. Rising threats in cyberspace make this a major issue for firms
What changes in the accounting environment for each year had a major influence on how firms handled their clients? Evolving legislation, international issues, and emerging asset groups all played a part in bringing new challenges to each year of the survey.
The general business environment also impacts firms. Everything from social movements to wars impact the businesses that rely on firms. Economic factors such as inflation, supply chains, labor shortages… the list goes on and on. Some of these are very plainly seen in the results of the poll.
We didn’t just want to chuck a bunch of info at you and send you out the door, so we took the time to analyze the results, and provide some actionable recommendations you can take away. These recommendations will help you bolster your firm’s strategy and prepare better for the rapidly changing accounting environment.
Check it out now!
The Four Simple Questions Report is free, and filled with all the good info we’ve alluded to here and more. It’s a great launchpad for firm discussions around strategy and client service, and we know you’ll make good use of it in your planning. Enjoy!