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What does the future hold for accounting automation?

More than half of accountants (56%) say they still perform tasks manually which they believe could be easily automated. But looking to the future, only 43% believe they will still be working this way by the end of the year.



There is no doubt that accounting automation has become more widespread in the industry in recent years, driven particularly by the delayed introduction of Making Tax Digital as well as recent changes to IFRS reporting standards, which have pushed firms and businesses to take a more “digital first” approach to accounts and reporting.


Looking to the future, it is clear that accountants and finance professionals believe we are only at the beginning of the “automation era” for the industry, particularly when it comes to technology like artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing.


According to our report, 34% of accountants believe AI is going to have the biggest industrial impact on their day-to-day role in the next five years, 31% feel the same about cloud.


Indeed, the overwhelming expectation is that in the next half decade there will be a tipping point when automation finally overtakes manual processes as standard practice in accounting firms and internal finance teams.


That’s not to say this technology isn’t already having a major impact over how accountants operate.

In fact, according to our report, 38% of fee earning engagements (tax returns, audits and filing accounts etc) are already carried out over some kind of cloud platform. This rises to 44% for firms and internal teams in London.


Promoting more collaboration


What is clear from our research, is that firms which have adopted technology are having a much easier time being collaborative and completing tasks.


Of the respondents in our survey which used accounting technology, 85% said it was very easy or easy to securely share documents with colleagues in the same office, 65% said that it was very easy or easy to share documents with people who were working remotely.


Sharing and collaborating with clients was also said to be easier.


Over half (56%) said it was very easy or easy for them to collect data from clients using accounting technology – making completing accounts much simpler by reducing the amount of time spent chasing down information.


Accountants also view cloud as a safer way of carrying out client work. 53% say using cloud technology is more secure than relying on on-premise storage.


A future less clear


While accountants seem to have a grasp on current accounting software, are clear on the benefits of using cloud technology, and recognise that their industry is set for a more automated future – seeing what that future looks like is proving trickier.


For instance, while many agree that AI in some form and automation are going to impact them, there is less clarity on which automation technology is going to move into the forefront and become the “go to” technology.


Intelligent Processing Automation and Robotic Process Automation are not even on the agenda for the vast majority of the industry, despite being cited as key automation technology.


Changing the skills accountants need


Whichever AI or automation technology does move into the mainstream, accountants as a whole are clear that it will fundamentally change the skill set needed for those looking to thrive in the industry.


Being able to use accounting specific software is set to become much more important in the next five years, as well as being able to confidently carry out financial forecasting.


This is compared to a fall in traditional skills like accuracy and analytical, data entry skills – which are predicted to fall in importance.


Armed with AI and automation carrying out analysis on large datasets, accountants will be relied on to be more creative and strategic with the information they have to identify or anticipate opportunities for the business, or put in plans to reduce dangers.


Whether this decade truly sees the start of the automation era for accounting and finance, it is clear that we are increasingly moving in that direction. It is up to accountants and finance teams to ensure they are ready.