Changing role of Accountants

Historically, advances in human endeavour and technology have displaced certain types of jobs – but have also resulted in net job increases.

But, what we’re dealing with in the current digital revolution is unprecedented in terms of the pace and scale of  change with automation displacing jobs across sectors from blue collar to white collar services sector - the accounting profession, in particular.

Certainly, the success of software and cloud accounting has relieved accountants of compliance tasks and allowed us to add our expert insight to the ‘big data’ technology provides.

And the composition of our profession will continue to change.

Indeed, a Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand analysis predicts that all but two roles within the profession - corporate treasurers and secretaries – are highly likely to be replaced by automation.

It’s a given that the long-term success of any business relies on constantly evolving and adapting to change in order to leverage what technology has to offer. And with so much innovation in the accounting industry, it’s imperative to take a forward-thinking approach.

Aside from compliance tasks, accountants have deep value to add with the combination of regulatory and governance expertise and, importantly training and skills in building trusted relationships with business owners.

Indeed, it is the human factor, the ability to bring ethics, empathy and values into a relationship that will become increasingly important in the march toward automation.

But the real point is that it’s time some of the traditional accounting profession roles and services died out  giving way to a new way of working, because what businesses need has changed and will continue to change.

What about business owners?

Business owners are increasingly having to wear many different hats, some of which they don’t have the skills and experience for.

They face a world where technology, markets and consumers’ needs are changing faster than ever before.

The owners need advisers who they can trust, who are beside them through thick and thin, who give them sound advice, who help them take the time to work on the business, not in their business, and can help them see the opportunities in front of them with a fresh perspective.

That’s where we see the role of accountants and the way they deliver that service as coming into its own – being there for the client when they need it, working with the data to support them through every challenge and decision.

But, that’s not necessarily what the market is delivering to business owners, especially in the small to medium sector; the hub of New Zealand’s innovation and growth economy. In some sectors, we’re seeing start-ups experiencing rapid and significant growth, and sustaining and surviving that volatile journey requires sound, ongoing expert advice.

A case in point is Panhead Brewery, which grew from a tiny start-up in 2013 into a phenomenally successful brewery with a range of award-winning beers, so successful indeed that it attracted the interest of international brewing giant Lion Group. BDO was able to provide a safe pair of hands, a trusted ear and expert insight in an ongoing relationship with the Panhead team throughout that rapid three-year journey.

What’s the market doing?

To a large extent, the big firms are engaging with the cloud and tools of technology to service the SME market, by rebranding and packaging new services, to an extent commoditising business advisory and accounting services akin to what you’d get through a telecommunications provider.

But a $150 a month service package isn’t necessarily right for every small business owner. What they need in a volatile and changing market is regular hands-on support, a client-centred service that is flexible and tailored to their needs, using technology to deliver results for them – working with the same expert advisers they know and trust, who have the depth of knowledge and a passion for helping Kiwi business owners.

It’s about relationship and staying in touch

BDO has always taken a strong relationship-based approach to servicing our core market – New Zealand’s small to medium enterprises.

Technology is an enabler in that approach, allowing expert advisers to deliver ongoing connected support for business owners wherever they are, whenever they need support.

This is a way of working, not a commoditised service package. Need for ongoing connection and support and our philosophy, approach and practical application is embodied in what we’re calling BDODrive.

It’s not a service package, but a way of working.

It combines the power of digital - real-time, interactive cloud-based technology and tools with expert insight to deliver a tailored and connected partnership between business owners and their expert adviser.

It’s not about having an annual or six-monthly meeting to review reports and spreadsheets – it’s an ongoing connected relationship – literally an ‘in touch’ way of delivering service.

The true value of this ‘in touch’ way of working is that it builds a strong, trust-based relationship where the adviser is available to the business owner at the flick of a mouse to provide technical knowledge, critical business thinking, strategic insight - working together online with real-time information.

As BDO Wellington’s Associate and business adviser Andrew MacDonell says, there is no substitute for staying in touch with businesses.

"Businesses need more from their adviser – not just historic or general advice. They need relevant, up-to-date information at their fingertips and access to expert insight whenever it’s required."

"You’re dealing with relevant timely data, not historical results – we’re looking at something that’s just happened and we can be right there with the client when they need us, when a decision needs to be made."

"This way of working takes away the surprises, it’s about exposure to the real game, a much more effective way to work, more client interaction and involvement sooner."

But, it’s not just about getting online to look at data. Indeed, digital frees up expert advisers to spend more time with clients.

‘’There’s no substitute for getting alongside a business owner, being on their premises seeing how they operate, how they interact, what they do. That’s how you find out what matters to the client, what needs to be done specifically for them and their business rather than delivering some commoditised service package.’’


While there’s no one winning formula for brewing a great beer, as with growing a great business there are some fundamentals that really matter.

One business that’s got those fundamentals down is Upper Hutt-based Panhead brewery, which has been so successful that it attracted the interest of international brewing giant Lion Group.

The sale to Lion, announced in May this year, has freed up founder Mike Neilson and his team to get on with what they love most: brew great beer… and for Mike, to spend more time with his wife Anna and their children.

So what’s behind the success of Mike and his team, growing a tiny start-up in 2013 into a phenomenally successful brewery with a range of award-winning beers which the market can’t get enough?

Mike struck his own winning formula - not just in terms of high-rev branding, hops and malt but in having the right mix of positive attitude, leading from the front by working hard, and having the right advisers on tap.  It’s a mix that can work well for any new business owner, especially when navigating the challenges of rapid growth where massive demand can be overwhelming - particularly in the exciting boutique brewing industry.

There are some common features that other businesses can learn from.

Keep it simple - Having the right financial tools for your business and industry is critical – but they don’t have to be complex. What they do need to be is designed for the business you operate and you need to understand what they are for – and critically, to use them for that purpose.

Keep at it– Information and systems are one thing, but attitude and application are what make things buzz. While some business owners implement systems, they don’t necessarily understand them or their purpose. But Mike understands his systems and uses them for what they were designed to do, so that he can make good decisions quickly.

Keep in touch – With cloud accounting you’ve got up-to-date financial information at your fingertips, removing reliance on historical financial data and allowing you to plan for the future - and respond more effectively and efficiently to the here and now.  There’s also nothing like a chat with a safe pair of hands to validate your decision making process.

Team - Another component to Panhead’s success is that Mike hired a great support team who believed in the product and understood the nature of the industry.  The team included his wife, father and best mate from school (who was also an integral part of the transaction, and is now the company’s General Manager).

Backing your business – Helping grow a business to the level of success of Panhead is a two-way partnership that extends beyond just delivering accounting advice and systems.  One of the first actions BDO took was to align the company with a bank that was prepared to support a growing business, using a product that enabled expansion through working capital funding.  This was a major change for Mike and Panhead, and BDO provided them with the advice and support to make the transition work well.

Frugality – One of the challenges of operating a growing business is managing cashflow.  Mike took a very frugal, very smart ‘grow-a-bit-to-buy-a-bit’ approach, injecting capital back into the business to buy one new piece of equipment at a time.  With BDO we discussed alternative funding options for Panhead ranging from direct investment to crowd funding, but this would have meant a dilution of control.

Exit - a solution to growth

By 2016, they had won the coveted Society of Beer Advocates beer of the year award in two consecutive years for two different beers. Panhead was now one of the country’s best-known and loved boutique beer brands and it was looking at how to upscale to meet the continual growing demand.

Lion’s investment provided an excellent solution and while it initially seemed a very big call, the international company’s stewardship over its other acquisitions - Emerson's and Mac's ranges - had given Mike confidence that his interests and that of the brand would be protected in the long-term.