Accountants are reinventing themselves during COVID

Yes, accounting is debits and credits and a lot of spreadsheets. But it’s much, much more than that. Businesses rely on accountants to keep their business on track. Especially in the midst of the pandemic, organizations are relying on accountants to help manage loan covenants, provide more granular financial reporting and identify sources of cash flow.

In early November, we celebrated International Accounting Day, and aside from acknowledging all the work of my fellow CPAs, I also want to reflect on the last seven months. We’ve been stress-tested time and time again by the pandemic, but accountants are emerging stronger than ever.

As we look forward to the year to come, here are a few things we can learn from 2020 and why accountants are well-positioned to help businesses chart a path forward.

We know accounting is more than data entry but it’s a stereotype that has long followed us throughout the years. Fortunately, the world is changing and accountants have found a new role in business, one of a strategic advisor helping to manage the financial health of organizations.

In the last several months, accountants have leveraged nearly every possible means to get the job done in a fraught environment, and in turn, organizations have become dependent upon accounting for much more than the month-end close. COVID-19 has been a forcing function for the ways in which business leaders, small and large, lean on accountants. As a profession, we have moved from keyboard warriors to collaborators and, more important, partners in the organization.

Broadening the role to meet the objectives of the business can also come with its own set of challenges, and even blind spots. With added responsibility, accountants will need to be thoughtful and deliberate about prioritizing work and helping teams manage their time. Make sure you continue to understand how your goals are meeting organizational priorities and are achievable with the tools you have at your disposal.

Facilitating organizational success

At the start of the pandemic, small businesses were faced with a problem many had only dreamed of (or had nightmares about): shuttering their doors and not knowing when they could reopen. Throw in the chaos surrounding the Paycheck Protection Program on top of everything else March and April brought us, and you can start to grasp the stress these small-business owners were under.

Small business accountant and 1stStep Accounting founder, Nayo Carter-Gray, has been busy helping clients navigate and manage Paycheck Protection Program loan forgiveness, grant opportunities and payroll credits. While not always easy, Carter-Gray says that the firms’ “ability to research and communicate complex concepts in a way [their] clients can understand will be the lifeline business owners will continue to rely on well past 2021.”

This year has also accelerated trends we figured could be the norm in three to five years. Traditionally, companies have determined a department’s value based on how close they are to the customer. Now, accountants are playing a role in the customer experience and are facilitating organizational success through stakeholder engagement by helping to support flexible payment terms, or being the starting point to negotiate new pricing (e.g., fixed users/seats to usage based).

There will continue to be factors businesses can’t account for, but it’s not stopping organizations from getting back on track and planning for the long-term effects of the pandemic on businesses and the customers they serve.


Charting a path to back to a post-COVID economy

Accountants are key to businesses surviving the COVID-19 economy, and finance has the attention of every organization in this moment. As the financial health of the business continues to be front and center, accountants will have the opportunity to invest in the systems and technology that will allow them to add more value to the businesses they serve.

Being able to provide advice and guidance to leaders, going far outside of month-end and standard forecasting, will set up accountants to be central figures for years to come. Departments throughout businesses, small and large, are now looking toward accountants to provide the financial literacy they need to identify blind spots and seek new opportunities. For example, Carter-Gray is seeing her colleagues dive into all aspects of businesses that can be driven by numerical data, including human resources, capital budgeting and ecommerce.

It’s not certain what 2021 will bring, but we’ll continue to see accountants offer businesses a much-needed lifeline, elevating the work from bookkeeper to business strategy.

The sky’s the limit.

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