By Garry Johnston
National Manager, Software Sales
I recently had a conversation with an ex-colleague, an SMSF accountant, who was lamenting the fact that he’s experiencing an HR nightmare. “It is so hard to find and keep quality staff,” he told me.
It really got me thinking.
Whilst COVID-19 has taken several good people out of the industry, we’ve been seeing a shift for quite some time.
All you need to do chat to a recruiter or scroll the many pages of Seek.com to see the abundance of good quality accounting jobs. Demand is significantly outstripping supply. So, is there a solution to this? Will the tide turn? And what can we do to facilitate a change?
For what seems like many years, Partners and Directors have chosen the path of optimal profitability and cost controlling.
Cue outsourcing. And it made sense - for every one accountant onshore four could be employed offshore. Quality and communication skills may have been an issue but this was creatively solved with quality control officers and senior staff reviewing the work before it ever met the eyes of a client.
Many firms and administrators still use this model today.
But, was this the start of the HR challenges we’re seeing in the SMSF industry?
The vacuum of talented SMSF and accounting staff stems from the outsourcing model. The issue around finding graduates still exists and has been exacerbated by COVID-19. The graduates that are employed in firms have trouble closing the experience and skill gap between entry level and the senior accountants because much of the work is done offshore. Many invariably leave in search of greener pastures. Worse than that, those senior accountants possessing a wealth of knowledge are now rare as hen’s teeth. They’re either exiting the industry or inevitably reaching retirement.
So, where does that leave us?
Offshoring is a form of labour arbitrage. The future SMSF firm will need to rely more and more on technology arbitrage with tools like artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Technology has meant a significant shift in the SMSF space in recent times through new software and automation. The hours of data entry and processing time are no longer required meaning that the accountants of today can turn their attention from compliance to advisory.
The broader issue remains of attracting, training and retaining SMSF staff so they progress to be the next cohort of Senior Accountants, Managers and Partners.
We can do this by attracting candidates from other accountancy or financial disciplines and providing them with specialist SMSF training. It will take attractive offers yes, and it will take training, career progression and other soft perks and benefits (think flexibility!). The industry will have to work together to attract good people to our roles.
SMSF software forms part of the solution. Features that leverage automation, improve accuracy and save time will only continue to evolve. Ironically, it does not mean that the future of SMSF will be performed by low-skilled workers, but quite the opposite. With great software and automation, experienced operators are more valuable than ever.
Save on outsourcing fees with powerful software that empowers and upskills SMSF talent.
Data feeds - Reduce the need for manual entry and therefore workforce at this level, it will greatly improve efficiency and company profit.
Artificial intelligence – With the assistance of the system, users can easily identify transactions and build rules to support the accountant process.
DataHeroTM – Newly developed tools like this will revolutionize the industry and mean problematic pieces of information such as annual and monthly rental statements can be easily applied in the system automatically. Tough to get data feeds, such as loans, will be a thing of the past.
Foreign Markets – Again, related to data feeds but now we can get live feeds from overseas markets, to make the processing even easier and more efficient. This will undoubtedly grow to include things such as cryptocurrency.
Streamlined processing – For assets such as property and annual tax obligations there are now intuitive worksheets that add to the user’s ability to complete work efficiently.
The HR nightmare cannot be solved overnight but it is certainly an interesting time in the industry, and one we must creatively solve for as we progress with the new generation of SMSF accountants.
In addition, we must recognize that labour arbitrage is the old way of solving the problem. Companies with an eye on the future will be making moves towards technology arbitrage, using great software to empower onshore workers and their firms.
I’ve worked in the SMSF accounting industry for almost two decades and have experience in almost all models of administrative business. If you ever wish to chat about how your business is equipped to handle the current staff shortage epidemic, I would love to hear from you at email@example.com.