If recent headlines are to be believed, we are all about to be replaced by robots. Research from PwC and Oxford University suggested that by 2035 nearly half the jobs in Australia will be made redundant as technology improves. At the top of the list of occupations most at risk of falling by the wayside? Accounting and bookkeeping.
There’s no doubt it’s a tumultuous time for all involved. Accounting software, and cloud-based accounting software at that, is significantly cutting down on many of the administrative tasks that take up our time as bookkeepers. The days of spending hours manually coding from bank statements and source documents to general ledger accounts are possibly over.
But it’s wrong to suggest that this change is a death knell for bookkeepers.
Those that do suggest bookkeepers are becoming extinct are buying into the misconception that we are mindless number-crunchers. As any bookkeeper would tell you, the reality is far more complex.
Automation will indeed replace the need for drawing in, organising and tagging financial data. But I don’t foresee any near future where a robot can accurately – and empathetically – advise a small business owner about what that data means for them and their employees.
In just 12 months I managed to start and grow my bookkeeping practice from nothing to 100 clients with little more than my time and that of a part-time staffer.
Knowing the unique characteristics of each small business we serve is a trait that sets us apart, not only from the robots but from each other. We have never competed with one another on our ability to crunch numbers faster than the next bookkeeper, but on the quality and accuracy of the information and advice we have provided to the business owner.
Making our practices more efficient through software can only increase the time available to us to do exactly that. We no longer have to spend most of an eight-hour day on site with our customers working out which bank statement means what, or where that invoice got to. Instead, we have more time to work out why the statements ended up as they did and how to improve them next time.
Registered BAS agents and are a fantastic example of the sort of bookkeeping methods that will, if anything, become more important as software continues to expand. Though software can be coded or taught to know the rules, they won’t always know why.
A great example of this is when a small business purchases a vehicle. An understanding of the type of transactions, how the GST applies and how it is recorded is a specific skill set. Automation cannot replace this.
At the same time it’s not simply maintaining the status quo. As with any business threatened with extinction, those that thrive are those that choose to embrace the disruption and move into new areas.
In recent years, I’ve seen bookkeepers effectively move into the IT/cloud integration space and advise clients not only on the best way to manage their accounts but also which software and devices they should use to make their business work smoothly.
They no longer have to navigate the mess of paper forms and invoices that a stressed–out restauranteur has developed for their own purposes. Instead they can establish a workflow from point of sale to inventory, staff management and accounting. All in the cloud, and all working together smoothly.
This will appear alien to some business owners who care more about why their business is travelling the way it is, instead of how. But for bookkeepers who rise to the challenge it’s an opportunity to grasp a completely new revenue stream.
To my mind it’s more accurate to look at accounting software, or ‘robots’, as the modern equivalent of your smartphone’s calendar and contact lists. They replaced the diaries and rolodexes and allowed us to rely more heavily on them to organise our time rather than keeping the day’s schedule and tasks in our heads.
With bookkeeping practice and job management software, we no longer have to constantly remember whose BAS is due when, and what peculiarities are required for each client. But it doesn’t mean our job is done.
I’m the perfect example. In just 12 months I managed to start and grow my bookkeeping practice from nothing to 100 clients with little more than my time and that of a part-time staffer. Without the right software to manage processes and keep client files in order there’s no way I could have manually provided optimal service to those clients simultaneously and accurately. In most cases, I believe that correctly configured software can effectively double the practice size of small bookkeepers.
As with many other areas, accounting data is becoming commoditised, but the value that we bring to that data is becoming more valuable than ever. The robots are coming, but they aren’t going to take our jobs – they’ll simply make our jobs easier to do.
Image credit: WSJ