Are accountants using cloud-based accounting software?

Technology is revolutionising accounting in all its forms. That’s not news. Every time you glance at a financial article there seems to be at least one report on the jobs that will soon be replaced by artificial intelligence. Accounting jobs are high on the list. But how much of this is true and how much is hype?

The promise of cloud-based accounting

If we believed everything we read about cloud-based software systems like Xero, Sage, and QuickBooks, they will soon be able to automate almost everything in your accounting firm including delivering your coffee at the right temperature.

Their benefits include:

·      Up-to-date data accessible at any time from any device or location.

·      Automated bookkeeping data entry.

·      Instant reports that include real-time banking and taxation data.

·      Complete integration with other business functions, such as procurement and CRM systems.

·      Online legislation and compliance checks, and much more.

All of this should streamline many daily functions and free up some of your time, so you can do the things you really want to do to advance your business. Shouldn’t it?

The reality

There’s no doubt that these systems are here to stay, and they are already making our lives much easier.

But!

Many busy accounting firms simply haven’t had the time to plan out an entirely new accounting and administrative system for their own business. They are too busy helping other people.

As for making things like legislation checks easier, many of the available systems aren’t yet advanced enough to cope with the sheer volume of laws and guidelines that even the smallest businesses can face, especially if they have dealings off shore.

While the potential is there to manage this level of complexity, it is too far away to be useful at this stage.

Then, as with any other aspect of business, bad planning or external factors can lead to multiple complications. According to Professor Sidney Dekker’s article on the Link Bookkeeping website ‘Small Business Risks and Challenges of Cloud Computing’, there are several important factors to consider before going down the cloud-computing road, such as:

  • The security of your data.
  • The reliability of your internet service. (NBN customers beware!)
  • The ability of the system to integrate effectively with existing software and processes.
  • How all your stakeholders, especially your frontline staff, will manage the change.

Will AI help or hinder accountants?

Machines are great at doing simple, repetitive tasks or a series of complex calculations very quickly. They can deal with facts and figures and suggest probable outcomes at the touch of a button. They’ve even started to learn how to teach themselves new things.

In the finance world, we can use AI to forecast stock trends and create complex reports. Accounting applications can not only integrate with applications for other systems, such as sales or HR, many now come as packages complete with these components already.

Yet, AI is far from perfect.

It still takes a lot of time and careful planning to transfer manual records into a digital format and there is a high potential for human error in this process. So, if we put the wrong information in, there is no chance the right information will come out.

In a recent podcast episode of From the Trenches , presenters Paul Meissner and David Boyer discussed their views on what won’t change in 2018 in the accounting industry.

Paul believes that AI accounting systems are impressive at solving problems we don’t have, but they don’t address many of the individual issues we do have in our firms.

Where will humans fit in?

Machines don’t think like we do. They are simply not that complex.

Humans, on the other hand, can look at the context surrounding a decision (like whether or not to invest in a company), take the machine-generated reports, consider their own intuition, then combine all this information to help make a choice.

There is no doubt that the role of the accountant is going to change, but it is not going away any time soon. If anything, there’ll be a much bigger role for accountants to play in areas like consultancy and strategic planning.

Above all, people prefer to talk to people who care about our fears, hopes, and dreams. We may not mind ordering a pizza online and having it delivered by drone, or booking a self-driven car for a trip across town. These things are already happening. But, are we ready to have AI plan out our future? Maybe … in the future.

Many of the themes in this article came from Episode 41 What Will Stay the Same in 2018? from the From the Trenches weekly podcast series presented by Paul Meissner and David Boyer. Paul & David are passionate CA's who care deeply about the accounting industry.

Paul quit his accounting day job seven years ago and now owns and runs the Melbourne-based firm, 5ways Group Chartered Accountants, and his online Freedom Accounting System firm which allows him to travel and work from anywhere.

For the last 4 years, David has worked as a Virtual CFO. At the start of 2016 he co-founded the Virtual CFO Association and in December 2016 his company, Sequel VCFO began franchising to mobilise the experienced work force of accountants in industry and bring their expertise to SMEs.

Together with their impressive list of guest presenters, Paul and David are the brave souls needed to fight through the noise and give accountants in practice the support and information they deserve.

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