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  • Speed is the number one priority demanded by UK SMEs
  • Number of accountants moving online has tripled since 2015
  • Nearly a quarter of accountants believe ‘robotisation’ is a threat

The number of UK accountants turning to digital solutions has nearly tripled over the last year – and with great results. The annual barometer, carried out by business software provider Exact, revealed that SME satisfaction levels when it comes to their accountants have doubled.

The 2016 ‘SME Barometer Research’ commissioned by Exact, which surveyed 2,500 professionals across Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, the UK and the US, looks at the working relationship between accountants and their SME clients.

It revealed that the number one thing SMEs are demanding from their accountants is speed, and in order to meet these demands and stay competitive, accountants have recognised IT and software knowledge as the most pressing area for improvement for their profession (37%) ahead of core accounting knowledge (33%) and communication skills (30%).

Software integration and digitalisation are clearly seen to be key to improving speed, as well as efficiency and productivity. Furthermore, it comes at a time when SMEs are demanding constant real-time access to their financial data – which has doubled since last year.

Of the accountants that took part in the survey, 67 per cent highlighted better integration of admin software as a crucial focus area going forward, as well as replacing paper forms with online forms (62%), and improving home/mobile access (43%).

Encouragingly, the survey found that there has been a drop in ‘spreadsheet accounting’ (25% in 2015, down to 20% this year), and the number of UK SME customers that are entering their data online, although still in the minority, are slowly on the rise (10% in 2015, up to 16% this year).

The research showed that accountants are turning to a digital-first business model, as they seek to scale and be more flexible to service both agile new businesses and established clients. In the UK, 45 per cent of accountants now use online solutions for administration. This is the second highest level of digital uptake in Europe, behind the Netherlands (60%), but ahead of Germany (35%).

This shift has seen the number of accountants using one integrated end-to-end software solution for back and front office administration close to double from 22 per cent (2015) to 42 per cent (2016). The impact of this has been a reduction in admin time, integration of business processes and improvement of flexibility.

“Rising customer demand for information ‘now’ combined with advances in new technology mean that accounting is increasingly seen as a commodity. In the battle for differentiation, accountants that can keep the pace while adding extra value to their clients by providing real-time, in-depth business insight, have the best possible chance of prevailing,” said Gavin Fell, general manager of Exact Cloud Solutions in the UK. “As customers become ever more difficult to woo, it’s essential that accountants demonstrate how new technologies can have a dramatic impact on how they do business.”

As for the future? ‘Robotisation’ remains a key buzzword for the accountancy industry. Although 40 per cent think that ‘robotisation’ is overhyped, 23 per cent believe that highly-automated competitors pose a very real threat. Interestingly, when it comes to their SME customers, only 10 per cent say they would trust a robot to do their accounting.

For more information and for examples of how automation and vertical-optimised tools are helping key business sectors be more agile and competitive, please visit

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