There are few words that make accountants more uncomfortable than robots, cloud software and artificial intelligence. These are the hot topics in financial technology, but they are also the very things that accountants fear will make them irrelevant.
Here’s the good news: The real future of accounting technology isn’t about a technological advancement. It’s replacing the old model with a new one.
Rise of the Robo-Accountants
According to Accenture, 80 percent of accounting and finance related activities will be delivered with automation in the next few years. Many professionals are wondering what the future of their jobs will look like, and whether they have a place in that future.
There’s no reason to dread these technological advancements. In fact, there are plenty of reasons to be excited for the future of accounting—as long as you’re not stuck in old ways and you are willing to become what I like to call a “robo-accountant.” Robo-accountants are accounting or finance professionals who have adopted automation to perform time-consuming, redundant and repeatable data-entry tasks, and work hand in hand with this automation to be super professionals with superpowers. They aptly interface with these automation bots and use their personal experience, education and instincts to bring value to business decision makers.
Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going
With that being said, when the future of accounting is brought up, people tend to talk about it as though one single technological development will change the industry forever. In reality, the future of accounting is much bigger than technology. The future of accounting is about a new way of doing business, not one single piece of technology. That model is providing clients with solutions, not tools.
Since the beginning of modern business, there’s been a need to account for the inflows and outflows of money, and since then, accounting has been through countless technological revolutions.
During the 13th century, medieval Europe moved to a monetary economy centered around trade. The bankers and merchants in Venice and Florence who were loaning money and selling goods had a strong need for accounting to keep track of their money. As a result, double-entry bookkeeping was brought into the industry. By the end of the 15th century, it was the standard.
Fast forward to the 20th century and the invention of mainframe computers. Suddenly, accountants at large enterprises had access to the mass computing power of machines, albeit in a much slower, less user-friendly fashion than we’re used to today. In the 1990s, accounting software made it to small businesses—a fundamentally different audience than enterprise businesses.
Finally, in the 21st century, small business accounting technology moved into the cloud. Small business owners could now log into their account from a web browser and access their accounting tool anywhere, anytime. The present state of accounting and bookkeeping is focused on high-quality, low-cost, cloud-based tools.
The evolution of accounting tools is finished. The next frontier is solutions.
The New Frontier: Solutions, Not Tools
Cloud computing and artificial intelligence are technological advancements that will play supporting roles in this changeover from tools to solutions. Machines have the ability to compute massive amounts of data almost instantaneously, and humans have the ability to spot inconsistencies and exceptions to the rules. The key is pairing them together. Accountants will leverage the computing power of software and AI to help them better manage clients’ financials while providing an accounting and bookkeeping solution.
Technology is never the future on its own. The future is about the ways in which humans can leverage technology to make them better at delivering value in the market in the long term. There are, however, things professionals can do to ensure they also thrive in the short-term.
How To Be Part of the Solution
In this new world, you are no longer just an accountant using a tool. You are an integral part of the customer solution. As you transform into a robo-accountant, your job will evolve by becoming less tedious over time. It will become less about entering data and more about assisting with high-level decisions. It will empower you to leverage your professional knowledge, not just your work ethic and willingness to grind.
Here are a few ways you can move into the future right now:
● Move everything to the cloud. Big data and the ability to integrate with third-party automation, AI and machine learning will be critical.
● Prepare yourself and your team to provide value-added analysis. As automation replaces the mundane pieces of accounting, your role will be to interpret data and communicate it to your clients. We suggest training your team to do this high-value service as soon as possible.
● Learn about the needs of the small business market. This market will be critical as the market moves into higher value, lower cost accounting.
With a new focus on technology, analysis and communication, you can move into new markets armed with the ability to best serve these entrepreneurs.
Scalable Solutions for Millions of New Customers
In addition to spending more time on value-added services, there is a massive benefit to this new reality: You can now empower small business entrepreneurs.
The cost of accounting services will drop considerably as automation becomes commonplace. Millions of small business entrepreneurs, who previously could not afford your services, now can and will be able to. They’ll have access to a plethora of high-quality robo-accountants, professionals who have integrated machine technology paired with human intelligence and communication into their firms for maximum value to the customer.
Nothing excites me more than empowering small business entrepreneurs to grow their businesses in a way they never could before. Small businesses make up about 99 percent of businesses in the American economy and employ 50 percent of the American workforce. This is a largely untapped market of 28 million businesses that need and want our help.
Thanks to technology, now we can.