The pandemic turbocharged a reliance on digital technologies across a multitude of industries. Accountants were forced to waive long established working practices and take up digital ones within a matter of days to best support their clients and their businesses. In most cases, accountants adopted a new approach to distributed, digitally-enabled working on a large scale, in real-time.
Many accountants have embraced enhanced digitisation and, as a result, have opened new doors of opportunity. But the global pandemic also stirred a period of economic and social under certainty, knocking people off balance and creating conditions where online cyberattackers can take advantage. Only recently, the UK government named cyber strength as a core pillar of national security.
Now more than ever, accountants and their clients must take the necessary security measures to protect their sensitive data and become digitally resilient. Luckily, there are now accounting software solutions that seamlessly integrate processes, in real-time, and can manage client payment workflows, such as payroll and payment entries, securely and all in one place.
Here, we’ve outlined key steps for accountants to follow so they can become digitally street-smart.
Get the tech right
As the first port of call, accountants should introduce anti-virus and anti-malware software into operations, implement firewalls and keep on top of the latest versions of software and security patches. This way they can be best prepared to mitigate cyber-attacks. Collaborating with specialist security service providers can also prove beneficial and the Global Cyber Alliance (GCA) has a list of effective security tools, some of which are free to use.
Accountants should also look to choose a reputable cloud service provider. These providers will ensure high standards are maintained and operations are reliable, secure and correspond with all relevant legislation and regulation. This will then free up time for accountants to focus on what truly matters, delivering excellent customer service.
Train, prepare, enforce, deter
Training staff to spot and avoid cyber attacks is critical. Any organisation can fall victim to phishing attacks or an accidental lapse of judgment, so training employees to prepare, detect and ultimately avoid online attackers is key. Training internally will also prove cost effective. But it must be designed to give staff a concise guide of what constitutes good security practice. By preparing employees to spot threats, accountancy firms can prevent many from arising.
Accountants must then take time to prepare their systems and ensure all employees have access so that they can control data with care. The best way to ensure this is by permitting access solely via a secure private network, or VPN. It’s also key to employ the use of biometrics, or cloud-based mobile device management systems and two factor authentication to confirm the authenticity and security of employees’ devices. Preparing systems in this manner will shore up a firm’s digital armour and deter cyber-criminals.
Accountants should also enforce internal policies to iron out the margin for human error. It’s wise to adhere to a policy that ensures data can only be accessed directly from cloud-based business systems and never stored on employees’ devices. Additionally, password management software stops employees from having weak and ineffective passwords or using the same password for other applications.
Remember your duty of care and choose the right provider
It can be easy for accountants to get caught up in new technology, so it’s vital they never forget their main duty of care, which is to provide high quality, secure services to clients. Not only can cyber attacks be calamitous for accountants’ business operations, finances and reputations, but they can also have a massive impact on their perceived trustworthiness.
Breaches of data protection legislation or regulations may result in fines from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). So, businesses must be able to prove all reasonable steps to achieve and ensure compliance.
Through cloud technology and working with providers that can deliver robust and reliable accounting systems, accountants can work with their clients to avoid potential breaches and help them bounce back quickly from any digital knockbacks. Regularly reviewed, tested and revised incident management and business continuity plans are therefore essential.
Becoming digitally resilient
We’ve seen first-hand the enhanced benefits of integrating accounting software with payments technology. Not only are levels of productivity magnified but, by bringing operations into the 21st century, businesses have the tools to compete in increasingly competitive markets. By planning ahead and taking a risk-based, best practice approach to using digital technologies, the resilient accountant can manage their operations with confidence.
It’s clear that for any business, operating digitally can increase the chances for breaches in security, data and cyber-attacks. For accountants who deal daily with swathes of sensitive financial information, it’s vital they plan ahead and take a proactive approach. But this can’t come at the expense of their core role and responsibilities. Following these three steps will enable accountants to become truly digital resilient.