Challenges for Accounting and Financial Services
Do Benefits Outweigh Risks?
In all their forms, cloud computing services offer clear benefits in terms of constant accessibility, security and support. But these kinds of services also present their own risks, some of which seem to directly contradict their benefits. A persistent worry for new cloud adopters is security – and while one reason for migrating data to the cloud is to avoid losses from events at the local level such as computer failures, natural disasters and fires, the cloud can expose data to other kinds of risks from hacking, malware and server crashes at the remote site.
Another concern has to do with accessibility to a company’s data. Because cloud services are Internet based, data can only be accessed when the Internet is available. In case of an interruption in internet services, or a situation where a user needs access to data but doesn’t have an Internet connection, a company’s files become unavailable, which can stall work and disrupt project timelines. Cloud providers point out that Internet interruptions can occur in local networks, too – and reliable cloud providers offer assurances of reliable uptime and comprehensive data backup and recovery services.
Financial and accounting services typically involve managing data from multiple clients over long periods of time, and cloud computing can provide an array of tools for delivering services more efficiently, economically and securely than with traditional data management tools. But the very features of the cloud that make it appealing for today’s financial professionals may also be helping to change the way those professionals define themselves, the services they provide, and the relationships they forge with the clients they serve.
Accountants and related financial professionals perform a wide range of tasks, ranging from maintaining a company’s ongoing financial records to preparing periodic reports and statements used to support business decisions and shape a company’s financial path for the future. Cloud services make those things easier by providing tools for keeping data from all clients accessible to all parties at any time and protecting that data from compromise. But because cloud services also make many of those tools available directly to anyone, it’s possible for clients to perform a number of tasks on their own, without the need of an accountant’s assistance.
New Roles in a Digital World
The public cloud makes general accounting tools such as invoicing, ledger management and tax preparation available to any user for both personal and professional use. Even tools designed for local use on a user’s desktop can include cloud support and storage for relevant information, to be accessed at will by any authorized user. These tools can be incorporated into a larger framework of accounting, too, so that an accountant working with a particular client can access those tools in the service of preparing financial reports or statements, or reconciling records over time.
For that reason, an accounting firm’s own data management tools can include multiple variations on commonly used financial apps and tools in order to work with the data of clients who use them. And in firms with multiple employees serving a large client base, constant real time access to all these tools is essential for providing comprehensive services to meet a client’s unique needs.
Collaborative Relationships and Expanded Services
New user tools and easy access to financial management services in the cloud are making it easier than ever before for clients to take an active role in managing many day to day financial operations – or to take charge of them outright. And because many of those operations might in times past have been performed either by a staff accountant or a firm on retainer, the role, and the value, of the accountant may be shifting in the era of the cloud.
With access to real time data on demand, accountants and clients may be able to redefine their relationship, moving to a more collaborative connection in which a key role for the accountant is that of an interpreter or analyst, one who offers perspective and insight on financial information and helps users apply it to current and future business models.