Ignition blog  /  Increase efficiency  /  Top three accounting trends for 2024

INCREASE EFFICIENCY 4 mins 12 Dec 2023 by Dave New
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In 2023, accounting firms in Australia navigated an unpredictable environment, marked by the explosion of generative AI tools, an increasingly competitive talent landscape and pressure to control costs amid stubborn inflation and rising interest rates. As 2024 approaches, Ignition’s latest survey reveals accountants will face what we’re calling triple threats: too much work, too little people and too late to move on tech. 

In a survey of 136 accounting professionals across Australia, 58% named recruiting staff and ongoing staff shortages as a top business challenge heading into 2024. This was followed by lack of time to implement technology (49%), inefficient or manual processes (40%) and too much client work (38%). Against a weaker economic outlook and tighter labour market, these challenges could eat into the profits of many firms.

Many accounting leaders are prepared to face these challenges head on. Over half (54%) are eager to learn how to improve firm efficiency through automation, with 41% keen to learn how to leverage AI in their practice. With the maker of ChatGPT OpenAI naming accountants and tax preparers among some of the most occupations exposed to AI, firms will need to readily embrace the technology or risk being left behind. 

So what are the underlying themes behind these trends and how can accountants best prepare? 

Trend #1 - Accounting firms will not only need to manage scope creep, but monetise it

A culture of overworking and undervaluing time is entrenched in many accounting firms. Out of scope work costs accounting and bookkeeping firms over $103,000 in Australia. Additionally, 95% of accounting professionals have experienced clients not being billed for out-of-scope work. With inflation and interest rates to remain high well into 2024, accounting firms can actually no longer afford to work for free. 

Mounting cost pressures and work will mean accounting firms will need to reign in over-service and find a way to monetise it. There is an opportunity to turn scope creep requests into revenue opportunities, if clients expectations are managed. In addition to defining and discussing the scope of the original project frequently, leaders need to explicitly give clients the choice to add more deliverables at an additional cost. 

Firms will also need to accurately price their services to avoid scope creep, and remain competitive. Many accounting firms today struggle to accurately price their services without undercutting their value, as they use bespoke pricing or packages, which don't match the hours dedicated and the client’s expectations. A more volatile economic climate will mean accountants need to keep their profit margins healthy. 

Trend #2 - Accounting firms will need to find and retain talent in non-traditional ways

Australia is facing a nationwide shortage of accountants and it is only the tip of the iceberg. According to the peak accounting industry body CA ANZ, in over just five years there could be a supply shortfall of around 29,865 accountants if no action is taken by the government or industry. Additionally, an approximate annual average of 5,973 new accounting, audit and finance professionals is needed to meet demand by 2026.

The outlook for the front end of the talent pipeline is likely to get worse. There are many concerns that Australia is following similar trends in the US with numbers of new graduates in accounting, management and commerce courses set to fall in the coming years. Accounting firms are coming under increasing pressure to fill talent shortages with compensation, with 96% of firms planning to increase salaries

As a result, more accounting firms may look overseas to countries with lower labour costs to find qualified staff over the next 12 months. Outsourcing and the use of contractors is increasingly common in the accounting sector and will only accelerate in the next 12 months, as demand for accounting services outstrips talent supply, and inflationary pressures push firms to look offshore to save on salaries. 

Trend #3 - AI will be a double edged sword for accounting firms looking to fill skills gaps

2023 was the year where AI truly materialised and became more accessible to smaller accounting firms, particularly with the arrival of generative AI tools like ChatGPT. The accounting industry is ripe for disruption, with research suggesting 36% of an accountant job could be automated and 26% could be assisted by generative AI in areas like data analysis and generation of standard legal documents. 

For accounting firms in Australia, AI is a double edge sword. On one hand, it can be used to close the current workforce skills gap, by taking over the “busy work” - the routine and manual tasks typically done by junior or graduate accountants in firms. On the other hand, it will deepen the need for more advanced and specialist digital skillsets in areas of artificial intelligence that are currently missing in many firms. 

The shift from once-a-year tax advice to all-year-round advisory services is already underway, and as part of this accounting professionals may need to evolve into “technologists”. That is, the ability to work alongside AI to analyse financial data and play a more strategic and creative role to clients. In 2024, more firms will need to invest in training to take advantage of these tools - and stay ahead of the curve.

These three trends will come to the fore for accounting firms in 2024, but they are by no means insurmountable. Accounting leaders that take proactive steps to reign in scope creep, rethink their workforce strategies to meet the needs of modern candidates and clients, and utilise technology to drive improvements in billing, payments and pricing can help to steer their firms towards profitability.

Where to go from here

If you're interested in how to make your practice more efficient and profitable in 2024, consider investing in technology to start automating repetitive processes. Platforms such as Ignition can automate several tasks in your client engagement process, while helping you price and package services confidently and bill and get paid for out of scope work.

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Dave New

Managing Director, APAC  Ignition

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Published 12 Dec 2023 Last updated 19 Mar 2024