Friday 14 May 2021 6:00 am ICAS Talk

Embracing technology to become better chartered accountants

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Gareth Lewis is the chief executive and co-founder of Delio, a rapidly scaling fintech that is transforming private markets. He leads their global expansion strategy as a leading player in the wealthtech scene. Prior to establishing Delio, he worked for EY, IBM and Convex Capital. Gareth is a Chartered Accountant and one of ICAS' Top Young CAs from 2019.

Gareth Lewis CA, chief executive and co-founder of Delio, and the 2019 winner of ICAS’ Top 100 Young CAs Technology category, talks about the changing profession and why it’s time for chartered accountants to embrace technology.

Over the last decade, multiple technological developments have impacted the accountancy profession, financial services and the wider world of business.

As a result, there has been a big shift towards technology within the world of accountancy and the role it plays both at a tactical and strategic level. For me, the evolution of technology within the profession is two-fold. On the one hand, you have the more mundane but essential day-to-day side of things, while on the other hand, we have technologies emerging that will transform the future of our profession.

We’ve seen this shift first-hand through our work at Delio, where we have partnered with dozens of financial institutions worldwide to modernise their approach to business. Until recently, many of these firms were using highly manual processes to run daily operations and were hamstrung by human intervention, siloed data and a lack of automation. In simple terms, these are the challenges that our technology helps them to overcome; but digital tools are also powering new ways of working thanks to machine learning, predictive analytics and improved risk management.

Like the wealth management sector, the accountancy profession is currently in a transition period where businesses will be moving towards a range of systems to help run their daily operations – whether that’s to reduce risk, increase operational efficiency or broaden new revenue streams. Although significant changes like this are not always easy to navigate, if the traditionally slow-moving world of financial services can embrace the digital move, anyone can! Perhaps more so than ever before, the last 18 months have demonstrated that businesses can adapt and integrate technology into their operating models, particularly when they have little choice but to innovate.

While we’ve seen many firms implement digital tools at a fairly basic level, we also see technologies around machine learning and data science become a mainstream part of businesses. Financial professionals and chartered accountants regularly encounter masses of data in various means and ways. That data has traditionally sat in isolated siloes, limiting its use; however, our ability to capture, use and analyse this data proactively offers huge value to chartered accountants and the wider business. This is where I see the role of chartered accountants evolving to drive data-driven insights that organisations can use to improve operational efficiency and accelerate commercial success.

Moving towards a 360-advisory role

As more manual processes and administrative tasks become automated by artificial intelligence, chartered accountants will have to adapt how they work. They will need to keep up to date with client demands, the changes within the market and take time to learn more about the available technologies.

I believe that the notion of chartered accountants being ‘the finance person’ is now completely out of date. I see chartered accountants operating in a more 360-degree advisory role in the future, where they will be able to use their traditional skills and apply them in inventive and modern ways. This is where technology will play a huge role as it has the potential to capture, analyse and display data in an endless cycle, thus offering us the opportunity to identify trends, recommend courses of action and continuously optimise business performance.

Younger professionals will have, by default, grown up in a world surrounded by technology and innovation, and we are heavily reliant on it in several areas of our lives. Whether we’re an accountant, wealth manager or any other financial professional, we need to look at where technology has helped solve challenges in the broader aspects of our life, and then consider how that can be applied to our professional role. We must think about how we can use technology to shape our work and meet our clients’ needs better, adding more value in the process.

I believe it is our responsibility as professionals to be drivers for change and evolution in our organisations. By taking ownership of how technology can enhance our working practices, we can get ahead of the emerging issues that are becoming increasingly important to businesses.

Embracing change

One of the challenges we face when it comes to technology is that businesses often move forward too quickly without having a good core foundation and infrastructure in place from which to work. There’s always a risk that things can go too far, which can affect a range of industries, as we saw historically with the crash.

While it is important not to jump on every single trend or adopt a “technology for technology’s sake” mentality, we shouldn’t shy away from the rate of change either. As the events of the global pandemic have demonstrated, we have to embrace technological change, make the most of the tools that are available to us and thrive on the opportunities that this presents. Technology can help us ensure greater accuracy, consistency and efficiency, but, most importantly, the right digital tools will help us to unlock a greater level of insight and understanding. This will help us become better advisors and accountants, which in turn, will help us to offer a better service to our clients.