A Conversation with Gareth James, Partner and Head of Audit Analytics at EY

Recently our CEO Mark Edmondson got the chance to sit down with Gareth James, Partner and Head of Audit Analytics at EY, to talk about the future of the accounting industry.

In this conversation, Mark and Gareth go in-depth on his experiences working on the cutting edge of accounting technology for the last several years. You’ll get his unique insights into implementing data analytics technology across an international accounting firm and learn some key takeaways for applying the latest software into your own firm.

You can watch the full interview above, and here’s our pick of the highlights to give you a taste of what they cover:

Clients’ expectations are changing

One of the first things Gareth discusses in this in-depth talk is the way clients’ attitudes towards technology have changed over the last few years. “Several years ago clients were quite nervous about some of the thing we were asking them to do, such as sharing their data with us”, he explains. “I’ve had everything from clients worried about the security of that data all the way through to being worried that we would find errors before they knew about them”.

However, he’s noticed a big change in this attitude in the past few years. He tells Mark: “I think that the balance has tipped with the fear factor in clients. I think clients are now asking the teams that aren’t [utilising the latest technologies] why they aren’t doing these things and very much starting to use that as a selection criteria for the teams that they’re picking. I think they very much recognise that this is the future”.

Lisa Leighton also discussed this change in attitude in her recent conversation with Mark, suggesting it’s a trend that’s happening across the board.

This suggests that there’s never been a better time to try our next-generation data analytics software.

Managing the adoption of data analytics software in your firm

Gareth also discussed how smoothly adopting the latest technologies into your firm’s practices is just as important as understanding how they can benefit you. “We were finding as we were innovating several years ago that there were some great solutions coming out of our business, but we weren’t fully converting the value for our clients from those technologies”, he explains. “So we’re focussing much more now on the adoption and the people change – how do we get these things used at scale in our business?”.

To successfully manage this change of approach across your entire firm, Gareth recommends that you recognise your staff will be coming in to this new way of doing things from different starting points. When you implement new technology into your firm, he says you’ll find “individuals that are so utterly enthusiastic and confident with the technology that things just happen without any change management infrastructure around those people” to auditors who might tell you “I’ve spent X years of my life delivering safe audits, I know these are safe, why should I change for something that might not be safe?”.

For Gareth, “it’s all about story telling”. So, the solution comes in the form of establishing a network of champions that have experienced the benefits of data analytics software first-hand to share those experiences with those that aren’t sold on the benefits it can bring to their team.

He also highlights how important strong leadership is when it comes to managing the change to an approach that incorporates the latest data analytics software. “To get good change management you have to have a very consistent and strong tone at the top of an organisation that sets the expectation and is very consistent about that expectation, so that people learn to trust and learn that it’s not something that’s going to go away”, Gareth explains. “And that’s something that spreads through the leaders of the business, who can then measure and manage how the business is changing and make those interventions if things aren’t moving in the direction they desire it to”

“I get very excited about the future of our profession”

Many people are unsure whether the changes data analytics technology is going to bring to accounting industry are going to be for the better or the worse.

But Gareth is in no doubt that it’s going to be a huge boon for the sector.

“I get very excited about the future of our profession”, he tells Mark near the end of their discussion. “The auditor of today is blessed with a level of importance and access to technology and innovation in their role that the industry has never seen before. So, I think it’s a really exciting place to work, and when I extrapolate that in my head I just think ‘wow, the current journey is just going to accelerate in terms of how quickly it’s going to move’”.

Gareth goes on to lay out an exciting vision for the future of accounting, explaining that he can see auditors “using data analytics and virtual reality technology to power a more immersive experience for the auditor. So instead of seeing facts on paper, you would actually ‘climb inside’ the clients’ process and be able to visually see what’s actually going on and use the analytics to take you to the areas that are interesting”.

Ultimately, he sees accounting as an industry that’s going to blaze a trial when it comes to adopting the next generation of technology, such as AI, data analytics, and even VR. Because of this, he also sees it as a future “where stakeholders have a lot more confidence and trust in the processes that we’re delivering”.

Watch the video above to take a deep dive into Mark’s conversation with Gareth and get deep insights from a professional on the cutting edge of accounting.