By Daniel Hunter

The accounting industry is increasingly turning to the web and mobile technologies as a way to improve efficiency and collaboration during the challenging economic climate.

This is a trend that is set to accelerate further with three out of four accountants (73%) predicting an increasing use of online services and 40% citing an increasing use of mobile applications to represent the biggest shift in their working practices over the next three years, according to the recent Pulse survey from business software and services provider Sage (UK) Limited.

The move towards greater online collaboration is reinforced by the area Accountants in Practice (AiPs) revealed is set for most growth over the next year. Online accountancy services was identified as a new area of focus for the largest number of practitioners (41%) introducing new services, with Bookkeeping, Final accounts and Monthly management accounting being cited as the top three services to be offered online.

In part the move is being driven by changing expectations and perceptions on the skills that make an excellent accountant amongst clients. Sage began its in-depth study into the factors shaping the UK accounting industry in 2008, and this year the highest ever number of small business owners identified cost effectiveness as the most important skill for accountants (75% - more than double the 37% in 2008) underlining the increasing pressure on practitioners to deliver services at competitive prices.

The Pulse research also revealed how widespread remote working within the industry is encouraging greater sharing of data online between accountants and their clients. Over two thirds (70%) of small business respondents and 71% of accountants work away from the office on a regular basis, which may explain why almost half of AiPs surveyed (42%) reported a growing interest from their clients in online collaborative working.

“Across all industries there is a move towards online collaboration and the accountancy industry is no different. For the generation of entrepreneurs brought up with Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook, sharing information online with their accountant is as natural as online banking, and there is a significant opportunity for accountants here,” explained Jim Scott, Managing Director, Sage Accountants Division.

“The key thing accountants need to do is show that they understand how their clients want to work together and are able to provide that service. Online accounting isn’t right for every business and so it’s important that accountants and clients are able to choose how and where they access their data. Whether that access is exclusively from within the office, over the internet on a laptop or out in the field on mobile devices, at Sage we are committed to providing the freedom to choose.

The need for anytime anywhere access to data, and the possibility for closer collaboration on the go, is also reinforced by the extensive use of smartphones by 71% of SMEs and more than half of AiPs (59%). Yet there is a clear difference in opinion on which accounting services should be offered via mobile apps. AiP believe client contact management, bookkeeping, Tax planning and compliance services would be best served through mobile devices, but SMEs actually want access to Final accounts, Business planning advice and Financial services.

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