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5 lessons from digital transformation of leading accountancy firms

Written by: Joris Van Der Gucht

09/11/2020 — 20:48

During last year's Fast Forward Studio we spoke with a broad panel of leading experts within technology, financial services and accounting. In this week’s blog, we’re focusing on our session with leaders in accounting globally - Dawn Marriott (Azets, UK), Jorgen Broothaers (PWC Belgium), Brian Murphy (Deloitte Ireland) and Martin de Bie (216 Accountants, The Netherlands). We talked with them about what they’ve learned from digital transformation at their companies.

The lessons they shared with us proved very helpful for firms whose digital transformation is yet to take off and those where it is well underway. All of our speakers were strong advocates of digitisation and put forward the many advantages it offers such as improved compliance; increased flexibility and speed; and a significant improvement in accuracy and efficiency. However, the focus of the session was not so much on if you should start your digital transformation but rather how you should manage it when you do.

Success demands you take people with you

All our speakers believed that a very important starting point is to communicate properly to your co-workers about what changes you are going to make and what it will all mean for day-to-day life at your firm. Dawn from Azets said taking your people along with you is crucial and that there are various ways to do that. “You need to be consistent in your message and values,” she said. “Talk about the benefits and always tell your people why you’re making a certain change.” Martin of 216 Accountants agreed: “Take all your co-workers along on the journey. They need to understand what is happening and why,” he said.

The accountants’ profile is changing

Brian from Deloitte pointed out that it’s not just the work environment that is changing. Technological change means that the skills and personality profile of the typical accountant is changing too. “Analytical and problem-solving skills are becoming crucial,” he said. “Moreover, accountants need to be open-minded and willing to embrace technology.” All our speakers indicated that in order for a successful digital transformation to take place, retraining your people is a necessity. Not only do they need to get familiar with the new processes, you also need to teach them new skills. At PWC, consulting activities have gone up considerably, confirmed Jorgen. “Where tax and compliance used to be all about deliverables such as reports, nowadays clients expect to get advice on tax,” he said. This shift in client expectations has a considerable impact on the people, requiring them to realign and hone new skills, but it also offers new and exciting opportunities. “...it is extremely important to think about how you will train, coach and encourage your people,” Dawn pointed out. Accountants now have more engaging and meaningful contact with clients. “And this is a crucial area where people will need help through coaching in order to adopt a new type of behaviour,” she believed.

Don’t be afraid to shuffle your cards

Looking at it from a practical point of view, a transformation process requires a good plan. At Deloitte that plan was three-fold, explained Brian. The first step was standardising all data and then centralising it. For this to work, Deloitte created central delivery centres. Finally the firm moved on to automating core work. But moving on with your transformation plan without first looking back on progress to date is not a good idea. “It’s important to regularly step back and look at how you want to do things,” warned Brian. Equally important is getting your change management right, which is only possible when your people are on the same page as you. “So you must ask your people what it is they want,” he concluded.

Think big

It’s also important to think how you might need to change your internal strategy. “Keeping your internal organisation unchanged is not beneficial for change,” Martin said. “Nowadays a firm needs to be lean and mean and titles shouldn’t get in the way of that.”

PWC’s journey lasted many years, Jorgen recounted. They got the team comfortable with transformation through visualisation, developed a value proposition and learned a lot from their failures.PWC’s change had its ups and downs of course as it meant reimagining what’s possible. Along the way they created a centre of excellence and evolved from a retrospective to a more risk-based approach. None of that would have been achievable without reimagining what’s possible and having a clear plan from the start.

Those seem to be the key elements for a successful transformation for others too. When asked what the first step in a transformation process should be, Brian was very clear. “You need to think big,” he said. “Imagine what you want and then build it, not the other way around.” This approach has led Deloitte to working with a more advanced method for audit, creating more meaningful reports and working a lot more efficiently in general.

Choose your partners wisely

However, thinking big doesn’t mean being reckless. Martin urged us to consider carefully what’s best: spending a lot of money on a full-blown in-house project or collaborating with external experts. These experts can reinforce your operations without you having to spend a fortune but you must choose them wisely and to do that you must keep an open mind, “That’s how we came across Silverfin,” said Martin. As a final note, Dawn added that external partners are not the only ones that can bring in added value. “Don’t be afraid to bring in new people with different expertise. It’s always good to think about different skills,” she concluded.

Want to find out more about Fast Forward 2020? You can watch the full recording of our live show including Dawn, Jorgen, Brian and Martin on the Fast Forward website.

Ready to get started with or accelerate your firm’s digital transformation? Contact us today and we’ll work on it together.


  • Accounting
  • Digital transformation

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