Finance leaders are moving into 2022 with cautious and measured optimism, well aware the challenges that lie ahead. But with these challenges come opportunities and solutions, so as finance and accounting teams jump into 2022, here's what to prepare for and how to excel in 2022.
15 Accounting Challenges and Their Solutions
Accounting teams that leverage technology are better able to adapt to changes and challenges like some of the unexpected supply chain and revenue interruptions seen in 2021. So, what are the biggest challenges facing accountants today? Cash flow, hiring new talent, adapting to new tax and regulatory changes and continuing to adjust to remote work remain some of the largest hurdles for accounting teams.
Often when there is economic hardship, or signs that it's pending, companies move quickly to ramp up liquidity by implementing cost containment, while deferring planned investments. Some of that focus on improving cash flow will persist into 2022 — especially when it comes to capital expenditures.
Management and consulting firm McKinsey & Company says that boardrooms have shifted their focus from earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) to cash — and that has translated into responsibility for cash management at all levels of the business. But some of those cost-cutting measures have slowed, particularly those related to workforce and operations. Businesses are more confident in generating revenue from the changes they made in 2020 to products or services offerings and pricing strategies. In Australia, almost a quarter of businesses reported increases in monthly revenue toward the end of 2020.1 According to CPA Australia, around 64% of Asia-Pacific (APAC) businesses expect their revenue to grow in 2021, up from the 48 per cent in 2020.2
Improving the efficiency of accounts receivable and accounts payable processes will be vital. Keep an eye on metrics like expenses, past-due invoices and operating cash flow. Generating and tracking cash reports daily can help you plan for the future because you'll see changes or fluctuations you can use to inform other decisions.
Managing financial disclosures continues to be a concern for public and large private companies affected by diverse APAC standards of reporting. Finance leaders are concerned about complying with reporting requirements from COVID-19-related government stimulus programs and ensuring proper documentation, recording and reporting for audits. Additionally, changes around disclosure requirements for Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) are likely ahead based on the current direction of firms like APRA and JFSA. Accounting teams need to be mindful of these shifting regulatory landscapes in future.
Hiring and Retaining Talent
Hiring is continuing for accounting and finance roles in technology, health care, property management, financial services, as well as for positions that keep cash accounts strong. These roles include billing, accounts receivable and collections.
Retaining top employees as competition intensifies is a key challenge. Accounting managers are right to be worried about retention, with an international average of 23% of employees actively seeking other jobs. Two key areas of concern are low morale and high rates of burnout because of heavy workloads — the latter being a somewhat perennial issue for accountants. Taking steps to ensure that key employee retention strategies apply to the accounting and finance department — such as continued education and training — is one place to start boosting morale. Helping accountants develop the technical and soft skills to better apply their domain knowledge to business strategy as more transactional tasks are automated will be crucial to retention in 2022.
Automation and Artificial Intelligence
AI implementations are done to address labor shortages, automate labor-intensive tasks and deliver more insightful data. Deloitte has shown in a recent report that APAC countries are prepared to different extents for the challenges of workplace automation, with Australia the most prepared (72%) followed by Singapore (70%) and Japan (69%). Other APAC countries including the Phillipines and Indonesia are sitting a little lower in terms of preparedness, at 56% and 54% respectively.
As more transactional work becomes automated, accountants will need to develop different skills to apply their expertise to information and data generated from new technology and play a role in more of the business strategy. Cloud-based accounting software, budgeting, forecasting, data analytics and visualisation tools are building some of the foundation for automation in accounting.
As automation increases, boosting existing skills and expertise to leverage the outputs of technology will benefit employees and your business. Focus on upskilling and learning more about cloud-based payroll and human resource information systems, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, data analytics and financial modelling and forecasting. In addition to technical skills, other beneficial so-called soft skills in demand will be the ability to work independently and in virtual teams, attention to detail, being comfortable with change, creativity, a desire for continual learning and written and verbal communication skills. Offering continuing education and training also has the added benefit of boosting employee morale and retention. 35% of surveyed employees in an Asia-Pacific Workforce Insights report agree that having no development opportunities is a driver of unhappiness in the workplace.
Tax Law Changes
Applying changes in tax laws is a common concern for accounting teams. Highlighted in Deloitte's 2022 Asia-Pacific Financial Services Regulatory Outlook report, businesses commonly face divergence when navigating regulation in the APAC region. But there's even more change in store in 2022 than usual. Governments are continually shifting their focus, exploring tax implications in areas such as climate related risk testing, cyber hygiene and individual accountability and conduct.
With changes inevitably ahead, effectively navigating tax laws can help you have more funds available to weather other business challenges ahead. Digitised, accurate and easy-to-access records with accounting software will make a complex tax year more manageable.
Regulatory Changes & New Accounting Standards
New revenue recognition standards, standards for lease accounting and IFRS 16 accounting standards have been a challenge for accounting teams over the past few years. While different phases of standards implementation have been delayed because of the pandemic, they remain on the horizon. Big players in the APAC region, such as Deloitte, continue to push for the creation of ESG accounting standards and the standardisation of disclosures, for example — so pay attention to announcements. Stay up to date with new regulations around business loans offered in each region and changes related to current and future COVID stimulus packages.
Though it traditionally dominates expense reports, travel expenditures reduced greatly in 2020. In the Asia-pacific region alone, air passenger traffic on the region's airlines declined 80% in 2020.9 Instead, the APAC region experienced a 7% year-on-year surge in IT spending in 2022, with businesses pursuing digital transformation in the wake of the pandemic.10
If you haven't already, update your expense policy, focusing on allowable home office expenses and food, including delivery services and gift cards. Check internal controls and consider further automating the expense management process with software to discourage fraudulent expenses and automatically flag questionable ones.
New payroll challenges from changing laws and regulations at federal and state levels are on the horizon. Like its constituents, regulatory frameworks in the APAC region are diverse. Governments in Australia have announced payroll tax deferrals and new stimulus packages in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the Philippines, all payments usually have to be made through in-country banks, but businesses who use third-party global payroll systems are not required to set up domestic bank accounts. Pay rates also vary across regions and fluctuate on public holidays. Salary thresholds have changed in Singapore in 2021 and specific sectors, such as the financial sector, now have their own thresholds.
Accordingly, due to regulatory diversity across the APAC sector, managing withholdings for employees in different locations has become a significant hurdle for payroll managers. Remote work has made the management of state income taxes challenging because of the complexity of determining primary work location.
If you don't already, consider automating your payroll processes. Cloud-based payroll platforms help with the calculation of earnings, deductions, company contributions, taxes and paid time off, while providing support for multiple jurisdictions when it comes to taxes, forms, direct deposit and more.
According to Check Point Software Technologies, cyberattacks in the APAC region increased by 168% between May 2020 and May 2021. The lion's share of those breaches is initiated by stolen or compromised employee credentials. The accounting team regularly receives emails with attachments or links to invoices, and it's not hard to see how easily a malicious link or attachment could make its way unnoticed into the workflow.
Accounting teams are well suited to be evangelists of cybersecurity company-wide — they're already schooled in robust internal controls, access and permissions required of their roles. Outdated software can increase the success rate for malware and ransomware, so make sure all systems are up to date.
Like many other industries, one of the top accounting trends is a desire for more flexible and remote work. In the Philippines, 67% of organisations surveyed by Mercer have implemented remote working arrangements, and over half of these companies predict that employees will continue work from home post-pandemic. In Australia, 67% of employees are working from home and in Singapore, work from home remains the default.
But remote work brings challenges to accounting and finance teams — who for decades have done tasks such as month-end close by means of long nights in the office. Remote work also exacerbates the risk of cyberattacks — with IBM finding that 70% of companies that have adopted telework during the pandemic saying they expect it will increase data breach costs.
Focus on making established financial controls work with a dispersed workforce. Use a classic risk assessment framework to determine which controls may open the company to risk.
For most businesses, cloud-based accounting software lends obvious advantages in supporting remote accounting teams. Companies that relied heavily on cloud-computing technology through 2021 were better able to meet challenges presented with remote work. And the technology frequently outperformed even VPNs with access to premises-based software.
It's no wonder that burnout is a common problem for those working in finance and accounting. Between juggling responsibilities, heavy workloads and a constantly shifting regulatory landscape, accounting and finance departments can easily be plagued with low morale. Another common concern is being understaffed — on average businesses with less than $25 million in revenue employed just three people in finance roles. And even for businesses with annual revenue between $100 million and $499 million, that number is only 13 people employed in finance roles.
How can you raise morale among your accounting team? Find ways to formally recognise individual contributions on a regular basis, especially at the manager level. Managers have an enormous impact on their employees' morale. Keep lines of communication between your accounting and leadership teams open. Listen to their input not just on financial matters, but strategic decisions as well. Give them the tools they need to collaborate. And automate tedious parts of their work to free up time.
Accurate Financial Forecasts
The conditions created by the pandemic made accurate financial forecasting especially challenging. Business leaders should engage in scenario planning and re-examine forecasts for sales, expenses and cash. Test and re-test assumptions, model cash flow, burn rate and liquidity under multiple scenarios.
One of the top accounting tips for small businesses and startups is to use financial statements to evaluate and predict business performance. Because so much is changing so quickly, access to real-time analytics is key. That's what will make the difference in building financial models that factor in historical trends, current conditions and best, worst and most likely scenarios.
Keeping Up with New Technology and Tools
Aside from a shifting regulatory environment and tax laws, keeping up with evolving technology can be a burden. There's a reason skills around cloud-based accounting software are some of the most in-demand for accountants and finance professionals. IDC reports spending around public cloud services has seen a 38% growth in 2020, which in many instances includes financial and accounting software.
The latest innovations around real-time analytics, robotic process automation (RPA) and AI will depend on having a sound, reliable, clean data infrastructure. But many companies are working with legacy, on-premises accounting systems that are outdated. Financial reporting, cash management, accounts payable and month-end close processes are all being impacted by technology and will continue to be key components of automation and cloud-based accounting software in the near future.
Is accounting a challenging career? Absolutely. But there are also new exciting opportunities opening as more transactional tasks become automated, freeing up time for accounting professionals to turn their attention to more analytical duties — and innovation in the accounting software is abundant.
Implementing and continuing to enhance cloud-based accounting systems is the first step toward tackling many of the challenges 2022 will present. Top-of-the-line enterprise resource planning software integrates finance and accounting with other business software modules, such as supply chain, warehouse and order management. With a reliable source of data and increased automation of time-consuming and error-prone tasks, the accounting team has more time and better data to weigh in on the strategic decisions and even become a key partner of guiding the business strategy.
1 https://www.abs.gov.au/media-centre/media-releases/business-confidence-and-revenue-outlook-improves 2 CPA AUSTRALIA, ASIA-PACIFIC SMALL BUSINESS SURVEY 2020-2021 3 https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/cn/Documents/financial-services/deloitte-cn-fsi-asia-pacific-financial-services-regulatory-updates-q2-2021-en-210712.pdf 4 https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2021-04-29-gartner-hr-survey-shows-a-quarter-of-australian-emplo 5 https://www2.deloitte.com/au/en/pages/economics/articles/future-of-work-now-is-apac-ready.html 6 https://www.persolkelly.com/media/persolkelly-2020/images/overview-report.pdf 7 Deloitte, 2021 Asia Pacific Financial Services Regulatory Outlook (Report). 8 Deloitte, 2021 Asia Pacific Financial Services Regulatory Outlook (Report). 9 Https://www.iata.org/en/pressroom/pr/2021-02-03-02). 10 https://businesschief.asia/digital-strategy/emerging-asia-pacific-markets-see-47-surge-it-spend 11 https://austpayroll.com.au/nsw-payroll-tax-deferral-2021/ 12 https://www.gpminstitute.com/publications-resources/Global-Payroll-Magazine/january-2021/payroll-in-apac-region-in-complex 13 https://www.legal500.com/guides/hot-topic/future-proofing-singapores-workforce-covid-19-its-challenges-and-the-singapore-governments-remedies/ 14 https://techwireasia.com/2021/06/computer-security-trends-apac-2021/ 15 https://www.asean.mercer.com/newsroom/salaries-in-philippines-set-to-rise-in-2021.html 16 https://aifs.gov.au/media-releases/two-thirds-australians-are-working-home 17 https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/work-from-home-wfh-default-jobs-support-scheme-covid-19-1959996 18 https://www.idc.com/getdoc.jsp?containerId=prAP47519421&utm_medium=rss_feed&utm_source=alert&utm_campaign=rss_syndication