From accounting software to ChatGPT: is tech aiding or hindering accountants?

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The market is flooded with software and rapidly iterating technology. We asked accountants how helpful it really is.

Sage. Xero. Quickbooks. Intuit. Bright. NetSuite. FreshBooks, Oracle Fusion. AccountsIQ. Clear Books. Tide. Cruch. FreeAgent. Zoho. The market is saturated with accountancy software packages, apps and platforms, each offering slightly different functionality and tools.

It can be overwhelming to know which ones to go for, and even once subscribed to a particular package, it can be a minefield to navigate the different functions and how – and if – they integrate with existing systems.

Common technological problems accountants often come up against include:

  • software not being as intuitive as expected
  • inability to customise or personalise software for clients’ benefit
  • software doesn’t integrate with legacy systems or existing software
  • steep learning curve because systems are too complex to navigate
  • systems or software requiring time-consuming, ongoing staff training
  • overwhelm: working with too many different systems at once.

But for all its faults, technology has revolutionised how accountants work. Processes that would traditionally take several hours or even weeks have been condensed to mere minutes. Entry-level graduates and apprentices can use their knowledge and skillsets much earlier on in their roles because automation is performing the time-consuming manual tasks they’d previously have done themselves.

And for chartered accountants, the use of automated, integrated and streamlined software allows analysis and interpretation of a wealth of data in real-time, improving accuracy. Provided it is used with caution, AI is one such tool that can aid accountants in analysing huge amounts of financial data to identify patterns, anomalies and trends.

We spoke to accountants from accountancy practices of all sizes to find out how they’re navigating the complexities of technology and whether it’s helping or hindering their workload.

Technology frees up accountants to provide value-add services

Stuart Tait, Partner, Chief Technology Officer, Tax & Legal, KPMG

Technology is constantly evolving, so there will always be an element of the landscape that’s not as joined up as it should be. Most tax solutions, for example, don’t integrate directly with finance systems, so as a firm, we’ve built internal systems to bridge tax and finance software.

But from my perspective, technology and AI is an invaluable asset. It massively reduces the time it takes to perform essential tasks.

18 months ago, we invested in AI software to reduce the time tax professionals spent researching and pulling together several sources of information (legislation, guidance from HRMC, outcomes of cases etc). The software aggregates and identifies relevant information to help predict tax scenario outcomes and tax professionals can then apply their professional judgement. This process used to take several hours but with AI, it’s now a couple of seconds.

During my first corporate role, I was gathering data manually to prepare tax returns. It would take 5-6 hours before I could even start to apply my knowledge. That role doesn’t exist anymore – it’s entirely automated, freeing professionals up to focus on advisory and value-added services.

As the tax landscape has become more complicated with more regulatory changes, firms also have to keep pace with client demand and scale up on their availability to deliver advice. Tech and AI is essential in achieving this.

Verdict: Technology is essential in freeing up accountants and tax professionals from administrative tasks to provide more advisory, consultancy services.

Tech makes it easier to share information, collaborate and automate manual tasks

Craig Dyer MAAT AATQB, MD, CA Dyer Accounts and Bookkeeping

Technology definitely makes life easier for accountants. Apps and platforms like Zoom, DropBox, Google Drive and Google Workspace make it easy to share information and documents, and work collaboratively in real-time.

We’re a cloud-based practice so when we’re working on-site, we have accountancy packages such as QuickBooks set up remotely. I can take my office with me wherever I go. That’s really important for us as a team.

Technology makes team meetings easier, too. If some staff are working remotely and others are in the office, the meeting can still happen, we use video links so everyone is involved. Video meetings with clients help enormously with relationship building – we don’t have to restrict ourselves to local clients.

Software packages also perform labour-intensive tasks, so as a practice we can focus on more detailed client work.

However, some packages aren’t as intuitive as they first seem, and require team members to frequently upskill. This is especially pertinent when software is updated, changing the interface or bringing in new features. If we don’t stay on top of these changes, it’s harder to provide a quality service to our clients.

But overall, technology has revolutionised how we work. Processes that would previously take hours are now much quicker, so you’re working more efficiently and filling your time with value-added work.

Verdict: Tech makes it easier to share information, collaborate and automate manual tasks. It does require regular upskilling, though.

Automating software helps grow my practice, but some tools don’t integrate well

Emma Rees MAAT AATQB, Director, Mercury Accounting

It’s great to see so many technological advancements making their way into the work of accountants, particularly in automation and AI. It would be difficult to grow my practice without the aid of automating software to streamline operations.

When I started my career, we didn’t have these advancements. But on occasion, it’s been challenging to learn the complexity of these systems.

It can also be difficult to know which software is best – the market is pretty saturated currently. I trust personal recommendations, rather than cold sales pitches.

Also, some tools don’t integrate seamlessly together and I’ve also found a lack of customisation in some software. For example, you can’t upload client logos to make it more personalised.

However, the software I’ve been using for my clients to file submissions has never been easier. With everything in one system, the submission process has been simplified – just in time for Making Tax Digital.

Automation too can reduce repetitive tasks and massively reduce errors, but it doesn’t eliminate errors completely! The data is only as good as the person inputting it.

Recent software has also started encouraging users to receive certification, which I love. It’s something all my team strive towards and it definitely gives some additional peace of mind for our clients.

Verdict: It would be difficult to grow my practice without automating software, but technology comes with challenges including integration troubles.

AI systems will allow accountants to engage in more consultancy

Steven Englander, Accounts Direct

I’ve always been an advocate of AI, systemisation, and automation. These technologies offer the benefits of lower costs, increased efficiency, and reduced reliance on human resources. They can also be easily implemented worldwide without the need for physical infrastructure.

However, we must contend with constant updates, software mergers, and bugs, along with the need to use multiple software programs to perform similar tasks. A lot of the time, the user interface of these programs is often complex and difficult to navigate, especially for those who aren’t tech-savvy.

Often, when a process doesn’t work (eg, rules in assigning transactions to ledgers) it’s usually the user not fully understanding or incorrectly performing the process. Fortunately, I’ve noticed the interface, training and automation improving.

It won’t be too long before AI systems will be advanced enough to operate without requiring human input, allowing me to engage much more in consultancy advice.

Verdict: AI systems will soon be able to operate without human input, allowing accountants to engage more in consultancy work.

Would you like to contribute to future articles like this one? If so, please get in touch with Annie Makoff-Clark at annie@hackcreative.co.uk.

Annie Makoff is a freelance journalist and editor.

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