1 Mar, 2024

Accounting and Coding:
Future-Ready Accounting Firms

Matthew Tapps, Software Engineer

4 min read

I recently made a career change, moving from a role as a Senior Consultant within an accounting firm’s Advisory division into that of a Software Engineer after spending time learning to program outside of my work as an accountant.

I found there were several key areas where my skills as an accountant and business advisor improved through my programming self-learning process, and thought it might encourage more accountants to investigate programming to improve their skills by writing this article about my experiences.


Excel Proficiency through Computational Thinking

The most obvious improvement in my accounting skills derived from learning to program was my ability to understand and write Excel formulas, which I primarily credit to developing a better sense of computational thinking. By better understanding how computers read, process, and output data, I found I could more easily break down and digest data-based problems into solvable units, and then apply Excel formulas to these units to produce the desired output. Combining this with some Excel best practices allowed me to create powerful Excel spreadsheets that dynamically analyse data usable by anyone.

It is well-known that Excel is the lifeblood of the accounting and finance world - every accounting firm I have worked at has a key Excel file that has been developed since computerised accounting was invented, containing a myriad of workpapers that provide templated accounting and tax applications. I believe there is a key opportunity for accounting firms to invest in their accountants’ computational thinking and Excel skills to further develop these Excel tools, or even develop bespoke software outside of Excel, to increase the quality and efficiency of their advisory services.

Automating for Efficiency

In my time as an accountant, I was stunned several times by some elements of administrative work that could be automated with a little investment into development. A key example of this that I can recall is of a time write-off process I observed, in which time (converted to dollars via charge out rates) in excess of a job’s quoted bill was allocated to team members based on the percentage of their time on that job, calculated manually by the administrative staff organising the invoice. The time spent completing this task was 4-5 minutes for the invoices I observed - with a volume of 1000+ invoices per month, this is clearly a massive time sink for a boutique firm’s administrative staff. While I have no doubt this is a solved problem at larger accounting firms, with a marginal investment into their teams’ software development skills, even the smallest accounting firm would be able to fix this inefficiency and save hundreds of hours of admin time.

As I was not working within the administrative team, I am certain my experience with processes that could be automated barely scratches the surface of what is out there within the small to medium firm space - let alone what could be automated within the tax compliance divisions as well (some teams send out hundreds of manual email information requests to clients every month for the completion of their accounting work, with further requests and back-and-forths for insufficient information).

Enhanced Advisory Services

It is undeniable that the professional landscape is swiftly changing to become more automated and computer-driven, particularly in the accounting and finance space. There are more tools out there that connect with your financial data to analyse and interpret than any one person can hope to understand. Despite this, with a deeper understanding of software systems and their capabilities gained through learning programming, I've been able to offer more nuanced and effective recommendations to clients on how to best use these tools. As “bread and butter” accounting services are further automated, it is becoming increasingly important that accountants provide not just business and tax advice, but also technology advice to ensure their clients are getting the most out of their systems and data.

Looking Ahead

The integration of coding skills into accounting practices is more than an enhancement of technical abilities; it is a step towards preparing for a future where basic services are automated. Accountants and accounting firms that are equipped with programming knowledge will be uniquely positioned to navigate this future, offering insights that extend beyond traditional financial management. Some key areas I found in my journey where my skills benefited my abilities as an advisory are:

  • Data Visualization and Reporting:
    Programming skills enable the creation of dynamic reports and visualisations, offering deeper insights into financial data and trends - for example, plugging a client’s CRM or scheduling software into Power BI allows for real-time dashboards that can be accessed by anyone from anywhere.

  • Custom Solutions Development:
    Coding allows for the development of bespoke solutions, tailoring software capabilities to meet specific needs - after working through a manual CGT calculation in excel that took me 8-10 hours to complete, I personally developed a solution in Python that would allow me to complete any similar job in the future in minutes.

  • Security and Compliance:
    Data privacy and security is becoming increasingly important as bad actors become more technologically advanced. A foundational understanding of programming would allow firms to proactively improve their data security practices, even if that only means an increased capacity to collaborate with an expert in this field (I believe every firm should consult with an expert to ensure their clients’ data is safe and secure).

I hope my thoughts above can serve to inspire accountants or accounting firms to consider investing in their programming skills. While the accounting industry is not changing as fast as some would have you believe (referring to several sci-fi videos I endured watching throughout my accounting degree and CA studies), it is indeed changing, and I think it is clear that accountants have a lot to gain by becoming technologists on top of being business advisors.

If you’ve made it this far through the article and are:

  • An accountant (or otherwise) who is interested in starting their programming journey,

  • Someone with some sway in an accounting firm interested in investigating automation or other programming initiatives,

  • Someone with thoughts inspired by the above that you’d like to share and discuss with me,

Please feel free to reach out, I’d love to have a chat and see how we may be able to assist.


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