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UK Accountants Still Behind the Curve in Exploiting Latest Technology

Spreadsheets and the post office predominate in client communications - but the uptake of secure online technology and software is growing.

​New research by Wolters Kluwer into the way UK accountants are using technology to manage and grow their businesses reveals an evident reliance on basic software and systems and on manual processes. The use of specialist technology and software is growing, but humble spreadsheets to track productivity and the post office to communicate with clients persist within many practices.

The survey of 300 accountancy firms carried out by Wolters Kluwer's UK tax and accounting business discovered that over 80% spend more than half their time on compliance work, tax returns, etc. On the plus side, 53% of them store their client and contact data in integrated databases to undertake straightforward compliance activities.

However, paper endures for 41% of the firms who continue to file their documents as hard copies. Around a third store their paperwork on an office network, while just over a quarter (28%) use specialist document management software.

The way the firms collaborate with their clients shows an ever greater reliance on low-tech. Almost two-thirds (60%) exchange documents by email and over half (57%) obtain final client approval to documents by post.

"This latest snapshot of technology uptake is very revealing," says Simon Crompton, managing director of Wolters Kluwer's CCH software division in the UK. Accountants and tax advisers have to offer more services to their clients to substitute the revenue lost by the downward pressure on compliance fees. Yet the profession is behind the curve for tracking business performance with specialist software, using online document exchange systems or communicating with their clients in secure online environments.

"All these technologies are available now, yet our research shows that over half the firms surveyed have no plans to introduce an online accounting system or are only just considering one. Almost half do not track key performance indicators to ensure they are working efficiently and maximising their profitability."

In the area of practice productivity the use of dedicated software is gaining ground. Although KPI measurement appears to be rudimentary - around a quarter (28%) of the surveyed firms use basic spreadsheets - another quarter have purchased dedicated software. Similarly, just over one-third (37%) track the progress of work using specialist software, although once again spreadsheets predominate (42%).

"Our survey is essentially a business health check for the firms that have taken part," says Simon Crompton. "We believe this is the first research of its kind and the number of practices participating will grow over time. We are building a much stronger picture of how the uptake of dedicated systems - particularly in our online world - is bringing all of the accountancy profession closer to the forefront of technology."

Accountancy firm are free to participate in the Wolters Kluwer research to carry out their own practice health check. The survey can be accessed  here.