The adoption of Cloud technology among accountants and their clients is less of a question of "if" or "how," but "when." My company, Xero, surveyed more than 1,200 small business owners and more than 70 percent of respondents ran at least one quarter of their organization in the Cloud, an increase from only 23.5 percent 18 months ago.
With the vast number of businesses already using Cloud technology, we must look to the future to ensure these organizations benefit from the incredible amount of innovation happening in technology.
Doing so eliminates the risk of being left behind. We’ve already seen how Cloud accounting software automates manual processes. But how will Cloud technology change and what will that mean for accounting professionals?
The ongoing introduction of machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) into Cloud accounting software raises some questions that need to be answered.
How will machine learning change the role of accountants?
Will continual optimization of Cloud accounting software through machine learning remove the need for accountants and bookkeepers? The short answer is no. There never will be a point in time where there is no such thing as an accountant or bookkeeper. We’ve already seen the role of accountants and bookkeepers change for the better thanks to Cloud accounting software.
We’ve already seen the role of accountants and bookkeepers change for the better thanks to Cloud accounting software.
Take Blake Oliver, a freelance Cloud accountant and bookkeeper and Xero Ambassador. He used to brave LA’s traffic, making in-person visits to use clients’ locally-installed bookkeeping software and – one of his biggest time sucks – print checks. One day he realized the bulk of the work he was doing was now automated because of Cloud accounting software and he thought he potentially may be out of a job.
As it turned out, his fear was unfounded. He ended up managing cashflow for his clients instead of only reconciling the books. He found himself in a financial controller position. This automation will continue to create the opportunity for accountants and bookkeepers to provide higher value services to their clients.
At Xero, the introduction of our "Find and Recode" feature saw more than 3,000,000 accounts recoded since its launch. However, our research found that there were 10,000,000 unique account names in Xero.
In the future, we expect this is the part where machine learning comes in. The machine eventually will be able to look at what is being coded, learn this and apply it across all of your clients. Again, there still has to be that human intervention to review the overall financials for your client and ensure the proper presentation.
How will A.I. help accountants better serve their clients and drive growth in their firms?
One billion messages pass between people and businesses every month on Facebook Messenger. Through Xero’s research, we found that one in five small businesses already use mobile messaging and online chat to speak with their advisors. The transition to leveraging chatbots will be inevitable.
The list of uses for a chatbot is endless. Users can ask a chatbot to order them a pizza, get information from the Whitehouse and, in the future, talk to their accounting systems in order to better understand their business.
A question as simple as, “Who owes me money,” while a relatively easy one, takes time to discern the answer and communicate back to the client. Xero recently previewed our Facebook Messenger chatbot, which will take care of simple questions like this for you; acting as your own personal assistant that works 24/7.
You’ll have time to answer the more challenging questions and provide more value to your clients, enabling you to cement your position as the trusted advisor to their business that they can’t survive without.
Chatbots also will work alongside you and help with your marketing efforts, bringing you more business. In addition, Xero’s chatbot will connect users with a suitable bookkeeper or accountant in their area using the Xero Advisor Directory. These are just a few instances where advancements in technology will enhance the overall accounting solutions you’re able to offer your clients and help your firm grow.
In the past, we only had our time to sell. The way technology has evolved and will continue to evolve means the computer systems are doing the time-intensive work, while we are able to provide value-added services for our clients, creating an efficient and profitable practice.
Amy Vetter, CPA.CITP, CGMA, is the Global VP, Education & Head of Accounting, USA, at Xero. Follow her @AmyVetterCPA.