Day to day tasks once reserved for finance professionals are being taken away by data feeds, bots, and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Accounting firms are starting the journey from compliance being their staple service to advisory paying for the bread and butter.
Like a tadpole in a fast shrinking puddle, it’s time to transform in order to be ready for the next phase of accounting services. So what will this look like? And what will our clients expect from us?
These are all big questions. As a technologist, I believe the next phase will see robotics and AI mop up the last of the processing tasks that have not already been replaced by bank feeds and auto-reconciliation. We may have visions of large, silver, humanoid figures punching away at keyboards, but robots in the finance industry are essentially scripts written to direct mouse clicks to copy and paste data, and open and close applications in a precise and directed manner.
The public sector, a large employer of finance professionals, is likely to be a big user of robotics. Large firms have already started programming their own robots to complete individual tax returns in bulk, a task many have offshored over the last 5 years.
Rather than taking jobs away, robotics will allow finance professionals to focus on other tasks. So what are they, and how will they be delivered?
AI engines are data hungry creatures, looking for solutions to complex problems in a more human-like manner. This is still an emerging science, but already some accounting applications have chatbots providing basic business advice through a messenger system.
In future, simple, low-level advice usually given by accountants or bookkeepers could also be re-assigned to technology. Our puddle is likely to shrink rapidly.
But it’s not all bad news, the rise of Cloud has meant financial professionals can work anywhere and the barrier to entry has dropped away to just the cost of a laptop and an internet connection. Indeed, firms large and small have put infrastructures in place to support their teams working flexibly out of the office.
The rise of integrated reporting applications and online dashboards have also given finance professionals varied tools to improve their clients’ businesses. However, it’s not uncommon to find firms investing heavily in tools that create amazing reports and dashboards but only one person in the firm is capable of using them successfully.
For this technology to really benefit a business, an equally large investment should be made in training and planning these services which simply underpin the relationships we have already developed with our clients.
Tools are merely background systems and our focus should remain on what is truly important: our client relationships. Clients far prefer a meaningful chat than a slew of emailed reports. The reassurance we bring to our clients by working with them personally can never be replicated by software. This is where we need to be focusing the time we have liberated by embracing technology.
We need to design service offerings that are complemented by technology, rather than being overpowered by them. We also need to look for a different skill set in our graduates, understanding that those with the highest marks aren’t necessarily the best for the next phase of accounting services.
The next crop of graduates need to be “people” people, those naturally inclined to strike up conversations and listen intently. We need to get back to the basics of being able to hold conversations and understand what our clients want for their business and for themselves.
Technology delivers the solutions, but we deliver understanding and service.