$2.4m push for smaller accounting firms to go digital

Initiative part of road map to spur growth, adoption of new technologies and create jobs

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah gives the keynote address at the Practitioners Conference on June 1, 2018. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/ISCA

Smaller accounting firms will get a $2.4 million boost to go digital as part of a road map unveiled yesterday to spur growth in the sector.

The road map aims to create 2,000 new jobs by 2020, while helping accounting firms adopt new technologies and expand abroad. It also targets annual growth of 5.6 per cent for the sector to reach $2.03 billion in value-add by 2020.

A key initiative is the new Digital Transformation for Accountancy programme, which will give small and medium-sized practices funding support of up to $30,000 each to adopt technology solutions.

Applications open in the third quarter of this year. It was launched on the back of findings from an accountancy census conducted by the Singapore Accountancy Commission (SAC).

These showed that the Big Four accounting firms as well as other large practices spent the most on technology adoption in 2016, while also reporting higher productivity gains.

Conversely, small and medium-sized firms spent less on technology and reported negative productivity levels. Cost and a lack of knowledge were cited as common reasons for not adopting new technologies.

Local firm Nexia TS has hopped on board the digital bandwagon. The company, which has about 250 staff, started digitalising its internal processes about three years ago.

  • 2,000

    Number of new jobs the road map aims to create by 2020.

Last year, it launched a cloud-based accounting platform that lets clients upload documents digitally, reducing paperwork and time.

These efforts help raise productivity and reduce mistakes, freeing up about 20 per cent of employees' time to spend on other activities that add more value, said managing director Henry Tan.

"Competition is picking up - there is a lot of downward pressure on fees even as staff costs continue to rise," he added.

The firm also bought a major stake in a data analytics firm last year in a bid to offer more services.

Another initiative under the accounting sector's road map is a nationwide e-invoicing framework, which will help firms speed up transactions while minimising disputes, errors and operating costs.

E-invoicing refers to the automated creation, exchange and processing of request for payments between suppliers and buyers using a standardised digital format.

In addition to productivity improvement efforts, training is also a key priority under the road map.

The increase in white-collar crime is behind a new Professional Conversion Programme for financial forensic professionals.

This aims to help mid-career professionals, managers, executives and technicians reskill for a career in financial forensics. The road map also includes plans to help firms diversify into high-value accounting services through business model and technology innovation.

These include courting international accounting technology players keen on setting up research and development centres here.

To kick-start these efforts, Singapore's first accounting hackathon starts today and runs until June 22.

Participants in the Accounting Innovation Challenge will work with mentors from accountancy firms to co-create new business ideas and devise solutions to solve problems.

Mr Lee Fook Chiew, chief executive of the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants, said efforts to future-proof the accountancy profession are "especially vital in a time of rapid transformation and evolution of new skills".

SAC chief executive Evan Law said the road map will "position Singapore well to lead in providing high-value, specialist accounting services, and to tap into the growing demand of such services in the region".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 02, 2018, with the headline $2.4m push for smaller accounting firms to go digital. Subscribe