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The Tech Take: Virtual reality the new reality for accountants

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Remote is the new normal. This will especially be true for accountants because the profession is one that lends itself easily to virtual operations with the help of the right technology. And virtual reality could be one piece of tech that really enhances the remote accounting experience, enabling the most realistic simulacrum of in-person meetings available today.

Indeed virtual reality, or augmented reality, has been experiencing an increase in demand ever since the beginning of stay-at-home mandates nationwide. Businesses are recognizing the application of VR for training, meetings and customer service. For accountants, all three of those areas are applicable. New recruit training, especially for larger firms, is an important step in the career of a young accountant, and can be extensive and detailed. Creating an experience as close to in-person as possible could mitigate much of the anxiety and shortfalls of conducting such programs remotely.

“Seeing a bunch of faces on Zoom is not the same as meeting those people in a conference room,” said Lyron Bentovim, founder and CEO of The Glimpse Group, a virtual reality platform company that owns nine different VR or AR subsidiaries. “Zoom is not the same as meeting for coffee and seeing body language and building rapport. VR has the ability to bridge that gap as much as possible right now."

One of the problems remote workers across the country have been experiencing during the pandemic is first, the relatively small number of options for remote meetings, and second, the insecurity of those platforms. Zoom, with 43 percent market share, is far and away the most popular video conferencing solution right now, but there have been issues surrounding the open nature of its platform. Ne’er-do-wells (not exactly hackers, but pranksters) have been able to simply try random strings of letters to enter a Zoom call and disrupt it, for example. This can be very disruptive to a group of accountants already trying to get work done in a new and unfamiliar circumstance.

Not all VR technology is created equal, but Bentovim explained that VR platforms can be “as secure as you want them to be.” Data can be encrypted data on one or both ends, which goes a long way to ensure security. Of course, as with any technology platform, there are all kinds of data breaches that could occur, including through social engineering and phishing. As VR adoption increases, security services surrounding the industry will also grow.

There is also data that suggests that video conferencing can be more taxing and stressful on participants than in-person meetings. Because the video and sound quality is never as good as in person, participants strain more to listen and use more exaggerated body language cues to indicate that they are actively listening. VR could alleviate some of these issues by bringing workers into an environment where they can see a colleague’s whole person (which, depending on the platform and firm policy can be an avatar that looks like you or a completely made up avatar) and interact with their “environment” (a simulated conference room with a whiteboard, for example).

While it may not seem like it, there are already multiple VR platforms specifically for accounting and finance professionals available on the market today. The question of adoption comes down to readiness and budgeting. The platform itself is one cost, but headsets are needed to participate in VR and they can be expensive. The Oculus product line of headsets range in price from $200 to $900, depending on the model and specs. With that in mind, the profession may see larger firms — perhaps the Big Four — adopt the technology first. And as the COVID-19 crisis continues to unfold, perhaps trickle down adoption will occur faster and more readily than what we’ve seen with other newer technologies like cloud, AI or automation so far.

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