Keeping up to speed as a bookkeeper in the digital world

New technology is changing the way bookkeepers work. While the skills of numeracy and accuracy remain important, it’s also vital to keep up with changes in technology and legislation.

How can bookkeepers stay up to speed in a rapidly changing digital world?

Less admin, more insight

Technology is changing the nature of a bookkeeper or accountant’s role from administrative-heavy tasks to more specialist services.

Paul McCooey is a director at Duncan & Toplis and head of the company’s bookkeeping committee. He leads D&T Online, their cloud service, and says over the last few years there has been rapid change in the industry.

“The advances in Cloud software and the implementation of Making Tax Digital has meant that the mindscape for bookkeepers and accountants in the UK has changed immeasurably over the last few years,” he says.

“Thankfully working through a big pile of invoices and bank statements to produce limited historic information should be a thing of the past. Instead producing up to date and meaningful financial insights should be what the future holds for bookkeepers and accountants working in tandem.”

Mark Purdue, Product Manager – Tax Products, at Thomson Reuters, says technology has helped bookkeepers become much more efficient.

“Efficiency is the main benefit of technology adoption,” he says. “Efficiency in your communication with clients, and efficiency in the service offering you give them.”

Instant access to client data and being able to share results and reports with clients immediately, will be key in an efficient relationship between client and the accountant or bookkeeper.

Being open to change

Paul McCooey says that anyone who is setting out in a career in bookkeeping is very likely now to be using these tools daily.

“Unless you are working in an organisation that is immune to these changes, if you are not using these tools you should be,” he says. “By not utilising them efficiently you are not providing clients with the best service and are potentially harming them.”

The beauty of these systems is that they are easy to use.

“More important than knowledge of debits and credits is an openness to change, a willingness to spend time learning the capability of the software and an ability to put in place processes to make the most of the efficiencies of the new cloud eco-system,” he says.

What’s more, the client is changing too. People are used to apps on their smartphone that give them access to real time information and data, and they will come to expect it from their professional advisers, too.

“As new generations of clients come on board, so do their expectations,” says Mark Purdue. “Printed paper and postage will not meet the demands of this younger generation of client.  The flow of information from client to accountant/bookkeeper and back to client cannot be paper based any more, it has to be done with the use of technology.”

Efficiency is the main benefit of technology adoption

Becoming more productive

Used correctly, these systems will enable bookkeepers to complete their traditional role in significantly less time and with greater accuracy.

“The important point then is what to do with this freed up capacity,” says Paul McCooey. “It would be very easy to try and fill it with more and more work whereby you will be back in the position you started not having enough hours in the day.”

He suggests extra time might be used for:

  1. Learning about the systems, the add-on market and the ongoing changes in the market to ensure you stay abreast of new developments. “Otherwise you will fall behind and not be delivering what is best for your clients.”
  2. Adding value to your clients – do more for them. “Spend time interpreting the information you are producing and helping business owners understand the numbers. Work with the accountant in partnership, together there is an opportunity to add real value for clients. If business owners have better information, they can make better business decisions leading to better more profitable business.”

Serving clients better

“A key benefit of technologies now and in the future, is data analytics,” says Mark Purdue. “The provision of financial statements to remain compliant won’t be all that clients look for in the future. They’ll want additional information to help them run efficient businesses.”

He says that identifying KPI issues and future potential cash flow issues all take time today. “With technology this insight is easily available to add value to the client when they need it most.”

Staying on top of new legislation

Making Tax Digital for VAT is the catalyst for large-scale digitalisation and smarter technology adoption, says Damon Anderson, Director Partner and Product UK & EMEA at Xero. “This will change the way accountants work. It’s going to eliminate the need for repetitive manual bookkeeping tasks, freeing up accountants to offer more advisory services.”

The transparent and immediate nature of digital technology may also mean that accountants may find themselves working in real time on the same financial document as clients.

“This is a major shift, as we see more and more accountants use the latest technologies which enables them to shift from being number crunchers to business advisors,” he says. “With the right preparation and software, the legislation can be an opportunity for accounting professionals to skill-up and embrace the digital future.”

Top tips to succeed in the digital age:

  1. “Embrace the new systems that are available, stop focusing on historic information, work in partnership with an accountant and as a result of this help your clients grow and become better businesses,” says Paul McCooey.
  2. “Technology is always changing and advancing.  Staying in touch with your professional body is an important way to keep up to date,” says Mark Purdue.
  3. Analyse your current software provider – if they are not talking about the future, particularly the myriad of upcoming compliance changes, then find one that is.
  4. Keep up to date – your clients will view you as a trusted source of accounting technology information, and will expect you to be up to date, says Mark Purdue.

Marianne Curphey is an award-winning financial writer and columnist, and author of the book How Money Works. She worked as City Editor at The Guardian, deputy editor of Guardian online, and has worked for The Times, Telegraph and BBC.

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