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The Great Resignation has affected financial services organisations, just like it has so many other sectors. In South Africa, skilled financial services professionals are leaving roles at an unprecedented rate, with many moving abroad to seek better opportunities.

Not only that, but a changing, multigenerational workforce is bringing about its own distinct set of job requirements. These more youthful and tech-savvy professionals are more likely to accept and, in some cases, demand new technology. Additionally, they are much less likely to put up with monotonous, uninteresting, or unchallenging work.

The disruption this perfect storm is creating can abruptly stall any corporate growth plans.

It’s why talent and staffing is a key topic right now, says Kevin Cumley, director of the Sage Intacct Accountants Program (SIAP). 

We conducted a live poll of more than 1,600 webcast participants during a recent webcast hosted by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), a global association of accountants and financial professionals, to gauge how staffing shortages were affecting their teams.

Three key findings from the responses jumped out at us:

  1. “Staffing shortages” was the top challenge facing accounting teams in 2022.
  2. Trying to overcome the talent shortage is a time-intensive endeavour (42% stated they now spend more time on hiring-related tasks).
  3. Offering remote work is one effective way firms are trying to attract talent (28% noted they’re hiring more remote employees).

How accounting technology can help attract and retain talent

It is clear that keeping your skilled accounting staff—your “human capital”—has never been more crucial. However, many businesses still have trouble finding and keeping talented accountants.

Fortunately, accounting automation technology can help.

Not only is accounting automation technology a crucial and effective method for increasing staff productivity, it can also transform the work your finance team does from being primarily concerned with crunching numbers and reconciling spreadsheet data to a more stimulating role that might make them less likely to respond to the most recent LinkedIn message from a recruiter.

According to many industry experts, accounting departments will automate everything they can in future in order to stretch resources and “do more with less” (our poll respondents agreed, with 26% saying they’re investing in automation technology to stretch resources and 18% saying they’re deploying new technology to attract and retain talent).

Recent research that Sage Intacct co-sponsored with FSN The Modern Finance Forum found that businesses have accelerated the adoption of new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). In fact, according to the survey, 65% of finance executives expect AI and ML will mature and become more commonplace

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So, what’s the best way to use accounting automation to maximise your human capital investment? Here’s what we recommend:

1.    Make the most of your current accounting staff with automation

First, automate the tedious, routine Excel-based transactional recording and data reconciliation that consumes so much of your team’s time. This will keep them happy, engaged, and productive.

For instance, automating allocations and consolidations can speed up labour-intensive manual tasks and guarantee they can close the books in a timely manner, freeing them to take on more strategic work—and allowing the entire team to complete more work, more quickly, and more accurately.

2.    Use automation to appeal to new accounting hires

Professionals are looking for an environment where they can clearly see that their employer is committed to investing in the tools they need to succeed. You can attract new hires by making your workplace more contemporary and technologically advanced than other opportunities they may be considering.

Manual manipulation is becoming increasingly impractical, given the enormous amount of data being produced.

Instead, predictive analytics will be powered by AI and ML and begin to support the budgeting, forecasting, and planning processes.

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3.    Use automation to ensure and improve accounting accuracy

For routine projects as well as initiatives that might not be as fully staffed as they once were, automation can help ensure accuracy. For example, intelligent general ledgers and error/anomaly detection tools can automate consolidations and automatically remove errors.

Forward-thinking financial services companies will continue to increase their use of technology as a differentiator in the quest to find and retain qualified talent as long as the human capital shortage persists. Others will use it to give employees the chance to learn new software and analytics skills. Some will use it to automate routine processes.

Businesses that are able to recruit and keep the happiest, most motivated team members will succeed in both.

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