5 ways to prepare for the automation of the finance industry

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The role of accountancy and finance is set to change dramatically over the next decade.

So what can today’s accountants and bookkeepers do to help prepare?

If you believed some of the headlines in recent years, you might think that the role of the number-crunching accountant was set to be entirely taken over by robots and automation software. The Future of Accountancy report from FreeAgent reported that 96% of accountants believe their work will be partly or completely automated by 2022.

Almost two thirds (62%) of the 500 finance professionals surveyed also said they did not think they would be performing the same tasks they do today in the next five years.

So how can accountancy professionals and bookkeepers help prepare for the changes to the financial landscape in the years ahead? We spoke to two experts to find out.


First off, don’t fret, says Vikki Bean, education manager at Xero: “Accountants and bookkeepers can be more valuable than they have ever been, especially considering the unease that Brexit has caused in the last 12 months,” she notes. Finance professionals do, however, need to develop their capabilities, and build their service offering accordingly.

“According to our State of Accounts report which we launched last year, almost half of accountants (48%) recommend that accountancy graduates should focus on business management in order to prepare for a career beyond 2025,” says Bean. “More than a quarter also recommend they study management consultancy (27%) and computer science (25%) – a fascinating insight into the way accountants see the industry evolving.”

Bean says that, ultimately, there will always be a need for accountants and bookkeepers. “Business owners still value the service provided by accountants as they continue to adapt to new and upcoming issues, such as the impending HMRC digital tax laws and auto enrolment,” she notes.

Move with the times

That said, finance professionals do need to factor in the changing relationship between accountants, bookkeepers and their clients, and move with the times. “We’ll be seeing more of how automation plays a role in the relationship between the accountant and the owner, and how they continue to work together alongside emerging technologies,” says Bean. “A key example is data entry and real time data visibility which is paving the way for a new breed of financial advisors – financial data analysts.” Finance professionals need to keep on top of the changes and upskill accordingly.

 Go digital

Today’s accountants also need to embrace emerging cloud technology, as it will enable them to predict when a small business is likely to hit a cash-flow problem, sometimes months in advance.

“With the emergence of the financial web, the ecosystem that is being created by financial platforms such as accounting software, accountants will be able to connect the small business owner to sources of capital and get that finance the same day,” Bean explains.

When it comes to managing expenses, where previously an accountant or bookkeeper would have recorded the paperwork involved, they can now use apps such as Receipt Bank. “This leaves the accountant or bookkeeper time to extract financial and operational data from the cloud providing the vital commercial insights that we know small business owners want,” says Bean.

Look at the bigger picture

Emma Rose, academies and research director at Winmark Global, says it’s about looking at the bigger picture rather than just the number-crunching aspect. “It’s about taking a strategic accountancy role rather than just an advisory one and blending automation with the human insight element,” she notes. “When I used to teach accountancy and finance there was always a very clear focus on the technical skills but it’s not just about numbers now. It’s about the business as a whole and understanding how it’s going to change – the implementation and the strategy.”

Keep learning

Rose says finance professionals have to look at ways they can continue to upskill and learn. “Learning is a lifelong acquisition of knowledge and number-crunching is just one small part of it,” she notes. “We learn with insight, knowledge and wisdom. It’s about being able to upskill and have the conversation with their clients where they offer them a solution and are able to understand the language and the process of digital transformation.”

Georgina Fuller is an award winning freelance journalist and editor.

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