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The Advanced Guide to Automation in the Accounting Industry

May 18, 2020 2:08:00 PM

THE ADVANCED GUIDE TO AUTOMATION IN THE ACCOUNTING INDUSTRY | Botkeeper

Like the transition from the abacus to the calculator, the accounting industry eagerly embraces changing technology—and the ability to make accountants' lives easier. Just as accountants embraced the convenience of spreadsheet technology, so a new generation of accountants is taking advantage of the latest advance in technology: automation. 

 

Why is Automation So Important?

Accounting brings with it a heavy mental workload—and even accountants who absolutely love crunching numbers will eventually start to feel the strain. It's not just the need to keep up with tax advice and investment information that changes as quickly as the weather—there's more to it than that.

Accountants customize their services, recommendations, and even processes for each client. They maintain data accuracy, evaluate fraud potential, keep information sorted between the correct accounts, and even ensure that approval comes from the right source for each expense. 

Let's face it: the mental load gets old in a hurry—not to mention the fact that it increases the risk of errors. How many times have you stared at a column of numbers that just wouldn't add up, only to discover that you had transposed two numbers in your mind or that you failed to include a vital row?

Automation solves a range of those problems.

Through automation, accountants can reduce many of the menial tasks they're responsible for every day, freeing them up to take on more important advisory tasks that will help advance their clients' financial situations and provide them with vital information about their tax responsibilities, their investments, and more. We're talking about things like categorizing transactions, running payroll, paying bills, running financial reporting (that's easy to read and understand), invoicing clients, revenue recognition—the list of what automation can handle goes on.

Further, automation helps reduce mental stress and decreases frustration related to deadlines. The result? Your firm has happier team members who can focus their efforts on high-value tasks and do more of what they enjoy, as opposed to the monotonous and never-ending data catch-up.

With fewer high-quality accountants entering the industry than ever before, holding onto your valuable team resources and combating attrition is key. By offloading the manual and labor-intensive tasks, not only can accountants do more for their clients, but that decreased mental load can help them feel sharper and better prepared. 



 

Does Your Accounting Firm Really Need Automation?

Maybe your accounting firm is running along just fine without automation. After all, you've been able to get by this long without it. Sure, you may experience some lost time due to entering and verifying information manually across multiple spreadsheets or accounts, but so far, your firm has been able to handle it just fine. Do you really need automation?

The short answer? Yes.

Does Your Accounting Firm Really Need Automation? | Botkeeper

Your accounting firm must prepare for the future—today.

The accounting industry has matured away from the mindset that automation is replacing people. Instead, most accountants realize that automation is simply the next step in accounting evolution...as vital and necessary as embracing the calculator or the spreadsheet. (Remember—you wouldn't spend your days performing calculations on an abacus!) The latest generation of accounting trends will allow you to stop spending your time just "keeping up" with the manual data work. Instead, you'll get to spend your time actually using that data to create a value-focused firm. 

Automation is fast. AI is faster at completing many of the tasks that your accountants accomplish every day, and it's more effective. However, AI doesn't have the technology to replace human thought, and in some instances, it will require human involvement to verify information. But when it comes to sheer data validation or other basic input, automation is much faster than trying to accomplish it on your own. 

Automation is more accurate. Human error can lead you to overlook the same error repeatedly, especially when it's as simple as transposing a couple numbers or missing a decimal. To AI, however, those minor errors are incredibly different—and it will spot them immediately. High-quality AI will not only use automation to categorize but also to correct mistakes and adapt the structure for future processes. On the other hand, if your firm isn't using AI, you'll lack that extra promise of accuracy. And it's very possible your clients will notice.

Automation can reduce burnout. Burnout isn't uncommon in the accounting profession, especially these days. Even experienced accountants quickly grow tired of staring at the same sets of numbers all the time—and that burnout can reflect in their work and home lives.

You want to keep your accountants and make your firm a great place to work. For modern accountants, that means offering automated solutions that can help make it easier to accomplish the tasks on their plates everyday. After all, you wouldn't expect your accountants to complete those tasks without the aid of spreadsheets or calculators. Automation has become essential for accounting firms.

Automation and AI are currently revolutionizing functions in nearly every industry, and yet this is only the beginning. These are just the technologies and trends we’ve begun to adopt as of this week, this month, or this year. And on the horizon, there’s so much more to be discovered, understood, adapted, and applied. Bringing the right automated solution into your firm can make a big difference as to how your accounting firm conducts its business, differentiates itself from the competition, and positions for future success. 

So when it comes time to devise an action plan for the upcoming quarter at work, take a moment to consider:

  • Are you creating a strategy that aligns with where you're headed, or where you are now?

Use your response here to keep yourself accountable for continuous learning, adaption, and innovation, because there’s value in stepping up to the plate early.

 

Handing It Over to Automation

Automation and artificial intelligence can take on a number of the “decisions” that once relied on a human being—while simultaneously removing the inevitable human-error factor. The use of artificial intelligence throughout the accounting industry has the potential to transform the way many accountants do business. In the future, customers will come to expect the benefits of that automation from their accountants, including increased speed and accuracy alongside more customized recommendations and financial data analysis. 

Handing It Over to Automation | Botkeeper

In the days before automation, accountants had no choice but to manually verify every piece of data that went into their clients' systems—including manually verifying them across each spreadsheet. This can substantially slow down the bookkeeping process, especially for clients who require multiple reports, often for multiple different departments, and all with slightly different information or calculations.

Automated data validation, on the other hand, can transform all this.

If you're tired of squinting at spreadsheets and checking (and double-checking) to make sure that you've input the right numbers, it's time to automate your data validation processes. AI can automatically go over that information to make sure that it's as accurate as possible, including:

Checking sources against one another to make sure they match. Does the information in Spreadsheet A match the information from Invoice B? Your system can check that information for you automatically, which means that your clients will always be working with accurate information.

Checking sources against past reports. Is an invoice wildly different from the ones usually sent by that company? Does a payment fail to reflect the amount a specific company has paid in the past, or the amount that the company usually pays for specific services? Automated bookkeeping software can automatically check those sources and reconcile them, then flag the ones that need further attention from a live person. 

Confirming payments. Between determining if a client has made an important payment and checking on incoming payments, it can be tough to make sure nothing gets missed along the way. Automated bookkeeping software can help keep up with payments and debits to all client accounts. The system can also automatically recalculate balances and keep track of expenses, making it easier to deliver insights into your clients' spending and suggested changes for improving their financial outcomes. 

Augmenting manual tasks with automation. Some tasks still require manual input, but that doesn't mean you have to handle them entirely by yourself. Effective accounting and bookkeeping software can augment those processes, ensuring accuracy and speed. 

Automation can't entirely replace all of the processes that accountants perform every day, and businesses are a long way away from being able to rely entirely on automation to take care of all of those vital bookkeeping and accounting services. At the same time, however, accountants are discovering that automation provides critical assistance to their business, reducing overall barriers to growth and preventing the likelihood of errors in their daily tasks. Shameless plug: we at Botkeeper pride ourselves on our ability to augment these services with human oversight provided by highly skilled accountants.


 

So You're Ready to Adopt Automation: Now What?

As an accountant, you appreciate the advantages offered by automation, including decreased errors and less time spent on the menial, repetitive tasks that can be so frustrating, even for the most experienced accounting professional.

So You're Ready to Adopt Automation: Now What? | Botkeeper

What’s next? 

Before you dive in and purchase software to help take over those tasks, you’ll need a solid idea of what you're looking for—i.e., the features, services, and support that will create the best automated accounting solution for your firm and clients.

Additionally, it's important to have a plan for implementation that will help you get the maximum value out of your chosen software. Like the expanded functions on your calculator, automation can offer your firm plenty of opportunities, but you have to be aware of how those functions work to make full use of them.

 Questions to consider:

  • Will automation allow your firm to grow your book of business by servicing new industries?
  • Will it provide the ability to offer additional, value-based services to existing clients?
  • Will the software enable you to leverage recouped capacity elsewhere? Or is this a chance to reduce resources?
  • How do you envision the roll-out and change management?

 

How are you using the software?

Some businesses may want to use their software to replace an outsourced accounting firm, or to take over specific tasks that they usually hand over to an outside firm. Accounting firms, on the other hand, may want to turn over some of those repetitive tasks and let the software take care of them for them.

Do you need:

Software that can support the needs of multiple, different clients? Your needs as an accounting firm may be very different from the needs of an individual business. When you choose accounting or bookkeeping software for your firm, make sure it's set up to handle the specific, unique needs of your firm—that includes tools to support both your success as a firm and your clients' success, too.

Software that automates your firm's most inefficient internal processes? Consider the processes that are most likely to bog down your accountants each day—the tasks that take the most time out of their days or cause the highest degree of mental fatigue. You want a solution that will take over or streamline those tasks, not one that will leave your accountants with their least favorite tasks still on their plates at 4:30.

A solution that will allow your business to grow? Many accounting firms consider bookkeeping an obstacle to growth. Bookkeeping processes are often time-consuming and require more manual review than other accounting processes—and it can be hard to find accountants who have the focus necessary to take on those tasks. By automating your bookkeeping tasks, you may discover that your book of business can grow in ways you didn't anticipate in the past. 

Consolidating your tech stack? Accounting has been largely untouched by innovation for the last decade. The majority of accounting professionals find themselves using a set of disparate tools held together by delicate integrations, or in some cases, no system integration at all. The chances of data integrity issues or information slipping between the cracks are far too likely! Finding a platform that allows you to consolidate your technology and manage your clients from one place (without having to become a systems integration expert) is key.

Training and support? You can buy all the software in the world, but if your team doesn't know how to use it, it's like an expensive graphing calculator in the hands of an elementary school student: used for basic functions at best, and as an expensive paperweight at worst. Not only do you need to select effective accounting automation options that will allow your accountants to spend less time on menial tasks (and more time actually using the data in front of them), but you also need each member of your team to know how to actually use the technology. 

 

Continued learning and development

Artificial intelligence is still a developing technology. While leaders and creators in the AI space have hopes and dreams for what it could ultimately accomplish, no one knows exactly how far it will go. You don't want the technology you purchased for your business today to be outdated or, in a worst-case scenario, completely obsolete next year.

Choose automated technology that's still growing. Choose a company that's working with some of the best and brightest in the field to continue enhancing and iterating automation as we know it.

 

Security solutions for you and your clients

As an accounting firm, you deal with a consistent stream of confidential data from all of your clients. You may have access to sensitive information—not just payment information, but information about the business' finances that your clients don't want disclosed. As a result, you need to carefully consider the security offered by the software you choose.

Think about:

How is the information stored? Cloud storage can make your data easily accessible no matter where your accountants are working—a particularly useful tool when your employees need to work from home. At the same time, you want to make sure that the information is encrypted and protected so that it's not vulnerable to hacking.

How is information protected? Carefully consider whether your information is encrypted and how the software protects private client data. Automation may mean less physical eyes on your data, which makes it essential that your software offers protection against data theft. 

 

Software that fits your budget

Your accounting software shouldn't be one of the biggest expenses that your firm faces. Instead, it should be an addition that allows you to grow your book of business and continue to provide high-quality service to your clients without substantially increasing your firm's expenses. When setting a budget for your software, consider both what you need your software to accomplish and how much you're able to pay for it. 

It all comes down to the right fit for your firm, and that means you have to know what questions to ask and what to look for in a solution.


The discovery process for any new piece of technology or service is never easy, and it's often overwhelming. A key takeaway in finding the right automated solution for your firm is to do your research and weigh your options objectively. Hopefully, this guide helps you navigate that process with a bit more confidence.

And if you're interested in learning more about Botkeeper's automated solution that can move your firm forward and grow your book of business, click below to get started with a free, custom walk-through of the Botkeeper platform!

 

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