Like everything else in the world, the accounting industry has been fundamentally changed by advances in technology. The days of summing long columns of numbers, painstakingly ensuring everything balances, and manually creating financial reports are long gone; all of those tasks are automated now. Without the grind of number crunching, which used to fill up long days hunched over adding machines, accounting professionals have been able to reimagine their careers, and activate the more creative side of their brains.

Accounting industry

On top of that, the advent of cloud computing and mobile financial apps has allowed people, including business owners, to take a more active role in accounting and bookkeeping. Now, instead of having their accountants prepare journal entries and create financial statements, people are calling on these seasoned financial professionals for other skills: advice and guidance, business and tax planning, and refined specialties that involve things like technology and forensics. Let’s take a look at some of the most recent changes.

Today, all you need to create a personal budget, prepare company financial statements, or track your investment portfolio is a smartphone and a couple of apps. Sure, multinational corporations still have IT (information technology) departments, server rooms, teams of accountants and accounting staff, and (more often than not) proprietary accounting software. But technology and the economy are shifting, and accounting software is changing with it.

With billions of people using smartphones and tablets instead of laptops or desktop computers, software development has focused more on apps and cloud computing. Instead of downloading programs, or installing them via CD, people are turning to online software solutions—particularly the ones that go mobile. While you can’t carry your company’s computer system around with you, you can carry a smartphone that fits right in your pocket and use it to gain instant access to the accounting and financial information you need, wherever you are.

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This mobile technology also gives accountants instant, up-to-the-minute access to the books of their clients. Instead of spending nine days in a client’s conference room, poring over handwritten records and receipts, compiling dozens of journal entries, accountants can now simply connect with their clients on the cloud to review tricky transactions as they’re made. They can pick up and analyze client finances without ever leaving their offices, or they can do it from the coffee shop downstairs.

Client-prepared financial statements can be easily reviewed, quickly adjusted (for error corrections or to comply with GAAP requirements), and seamlessly dropped into payroll, sales, and income tax returns—and it can all be done on a smartphone or tablet.

More Client Diy

Of course, as software and apps make basic accounting and bookkeeping tasks as easy as eating pizza, more people than ever are doing this work themselves. Online banking, credit card, and brokerage accounts can link seamlessly into most any accounting or tax software. That automation eliminates the common math errors and missed transactions that used to plague bookkeepers and accountants alike. People no longer need to rely on accountants and bookkeepers to deal with their business transactions, or even to do their taxes. Now, everything is DIY, and more often than not, accounting work is done in the cloud.

No More Mistaeks

Since electronic spreadsheet programs came into use decades ago, many common math errors have become virtually extinct . . . except for one. Software can’t recognize a transposition input error, like typing in $160 instead of $610, if it doesn’t knock anything out of balance, but a seasoned accountant can and will notice the error.

And as clients do more of the work for themselves, and computers pick up the rest of the mathematical grunt work, the roles and responsibilities of accountants continue to change.

As accounting data moves to the Internet, CPAs and their clients must step up their cybersecurity efforts. Global criminal cabals hack and attack vulnerable networks, trawling for sensitive financial information, social security numbers, and corporate secrets.

Cybersecurity Takes Center Stage

Clients trust their CPAs with their most sensitive information, and those accountants are charged with doing everything possible to keep that data safeguarded. That protection has to start right on the front lines, with the accountants themselves.

It’s crucial that these trusted professionals be cyberfraud savvy: never clicking on links in phishing emails, immediately reporting even suspected security issues, using caution and respecting confidentiality on social media sites, using extreme caution when sending information by email, and being constantly vigilant for viruses and system incursions.

Security awareness is an ongoing issue: You can’t just install a firewall and some antivirus software and hope that it’s enough to keep out hackers and identity thieves. System security measures must be reviewed regularly and updated frequently. For example, accountants must make sure to use the strongest possible encryption and passwords for information stored in the cloud, and change those passwords regularly.

They must also limit access to client information to only the professionals who are working on that account, and they must encrypt sensitive information sent by email with password-protected documents, and then communicate the password separately. These kinds of steps are crucial for protecting client (and personal) financial information.