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59% of SMEs don’t think they’ll need an accountant in 10 years’ time – How can accountants use digital to adapt?

Most accountants didn’t go into the industry for their love of manual data entry, however for many, more time is spent processing transactions than analysing them. Fortunately, as we transition into a digital world, technology has the capability to automate many of those traditional manual processes, freeing up time to spend on value added tasks such as data driven analysis. 

How has technology changed accountancy in the last ten years?

A good example of the technology which is making a big impact on the industry is Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and Approval workflow.  OCR technology reads the information on a purchase invoice, removing manual data entry. Workflow approval creates a robust, streamlined approval process ensuring visibility of the status of invoices from the point that they enter the building. 

Modern finance systems are also now turning their minds to Fintech. A typical BACS run involves a laborious paper-based process where streams of invoices are individually reviewed before the file is manually uploaded into banking software. Modern finance systems are now creating direct payment integrations, meaning invoices can be reviewed and approved electronically from within your finance system before being securely sent to the bank for processing.  Not only does this streamline the payment process, it also improves security by removing the element of human invention created by manually uploaded the payment file.

What impact will this technology have on the accounting industry?

Technology has and will continue to have a big impact on the accountancy profession. We should see this change as a positive one. Many accountants are commercially minded and are interested in using their skills to make an impact on the organisation. With the automation of manual processes, many accountants will see this becoming a reality with their role becoming increasingly more advisory in nature. 

I think we will also continue to see an increase in the number and prominence of system accountants. With technology having an increasingly large role in the transactional heavy lifting for an organisation, there will be an increased demand for accountants with those technical skills required to maintain and flex those systems as their organisations evolve. 

Of course, we aren’t there yet. Many organisations are at different stages in their digital transformation process and many still rely on paper-based processes. Whilst those organisations certainly have the most to gain, given the pace of change in technology today, even forward-thinking organisations should be reviewing their digital strategy every few years at a minimum. 

What’s driving this automation? Where will it go next?

The market for finance systems technology is vibrant. We continue to see new entrants with new ideas and that’s great for the industry and its customers. The pace of change continues to increase and I don’t see it slowing down any time soon. We are seeing the beginning of AI and predictive analytics, and I think there is plenty more we will see in terms of automation. I also think that the government has its part to play in enabling automation. Over time, OCR should be replaced by e-invoicing, but we will really only see those benefits when the government mandates it like they have done in countries such as brazil. I also think we can do a lot in the automated reconciliation of cash receipts; the technology is already there but the UK government needs to ensure that UK organisations can utilise those benefits.


Mark Pullen, CEO of Xledger UK

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