Miriam Akhtar is the Head of Digital Accounting at Alexander Sloan
Alexander Sloan was established in 1867 and we are proud to be one of Scotland’s longest standing independent accountancy firms. Our firm operates out of two offices, Glasgow and Edinburgh and has around 50 staff providing services, in audit, tax, accounts, business services and digital accounting.
My role is very much technology based and I really enjoy learning about new software and tech that can help our industry. The thing I enjoy most about my role is the opportunities that it gives me to speak to a wide range of people from a variety of backgrounds. For instance, I could be speaking to someone who is running a charity followed by someone who runs a farm - so the topics of conversation are always interesting! Creating client relationships and building a rapport with clients is great, and working alongside them to help streamline their finance function gives me a real sense of satisfaction.
At present, challenges include transitioning clients to digital accounting solutions, whether it be supporting them in converting the records they keep, the software they use, or to support their staff whilst they work from home due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, this is also an opportunity for us to service clients and continue to engage with them and support them in their journey to having a clearer understanding of their finances. We also know Net Zero will be a big area in the coming years and we as a firm are actively taking steps to understand what we need to do as a firm, but also in turn how we can then support our clients implement a green strategy- there is a lot to be achieved!
Sustainability to me is ensuring that we take urgent steps to secure the future wellbeing of our planet and making sure that we try to avoid depleting natural resources. From a personal perspective, I have seen the effects of things like climate change on friends and family I have living abroad, and the small steps we take today can have a big impact on their futures but also our own.
From a business perspective it is about understanding and improving the wider social and environmental impact of a business and how we can help combat these to address global issues.
"As a digital accountant I believe that our industry will be a very important part in reporting and providing key ESG information to businesses. Accountants will need to help businesses improve processes and internal controls whilst ensuring they have key metrics in place to measure their carbon footprint. "
Sustainability is and will continue to become a key area in addition to digital accounting. By having accessible financial information that is held on a cloud-based platform, this will make it easier to measure ESG metrics. I think we will begin to see the topic of ‘Sustainability’ become a key topic in accounting courses and no doubt there will be a distinct move to upskill staff to be able to understand and meet the criteria for providing key ESG data as well as advising business on how they can implement a green strategy.
We are quite invested in our digital transformation journey - as a firm our systems and processes are constantly being reviewed with a view to ensuring they are efficient, accessible and of course cost effective. At present our internal systems such as practice management software, our servers and our HR systems are all cloud-based, meaning they are easily accessible, and they hold no burden on our servers. There are of course some aspects where we will upgrade in time, but it’s important to evaluate potential software and not just convert unless the outcome suits our firm’s goals.
"For those beginning their journey, I would recommend tackling one area at a time, internally looking at systems and processes and whether time and efficiencies could be made. "
I would definitely recommend planning out the stages of implementation and what possible knock-on effect it would have on the running of the practice. It is also a good idea to reach out to or network with others that are a bit further along in their journey. I have personally experienced the benefits of collaborating with others and would encourage people who are perhaps feeling daunted with what they see as a large task to just have a chat with others as it can often help draw parallels with what you are experiencing.
Future accountants need to be confident enough to raise ideas and solutions to clients. Certainly, in the field I’m in and services we provide, a lot of time is spent scoping clients financial processes and understanding how and where cost and time efficiencies can be gained. So having great communication skills and being conscientious enough to know what effect your actions may have on a client’s decision to perhaps re-envision their finance function. Having technical knowledge is important, but equally important is how you converse with clients and react to ever evolving economic conditions.