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Business Futures: How the accounting sector is adopting technology to improve the client experience

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by Startacus Admin

accounting and technology
Exploring how technology is changing the accounting sector and how tech interaction is improving the overall client experience.

Simon Dolan’s success began with placing a £10 advert in a local paper when he was 22. After working from a kitchen table for five years, Simon opened the first office and the firm grew rapidly, becoming a market leader in the contractor accountancy sector. After leaving SJD which he sold in 2014 for £100m, Simon Dolan started Dolan Accountancy in 2017. Simon had a desire to return to the industry and create a new brand to exploit the weaknesses of competitor firms. 

Here Simon shares his insights into how technology is changing the accounting sector and how tech interaction is improving the overall client experience.

Simon Dolan"As technology advances year on year, the workplace continues to be transformed with business adopting tech to improve their offering and client experience. Digital technology has revolutionised the way in which we communicate in the workplace with real-time language translations, how business payment transactions are made with mobile banking, and even the office itself with mobile technology enabling remote working.

Technology has permeated near every business sector, and accountancy is no different. The landscape of accountancy is almost unrecognisable from 10 years ago. Last year HMRC reported 9.24 million Self Assessments were submitted online compared to just 3.8million in 2008. The sector is not just embracing technology but running with it, evidenced through HMRC’s bold claim to make tax digital by 2020. In this article we will explore the technological changes and how this affects accountants with their day to jobs and their interaction with clients.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is better known as machine learning. The ICAEW have already reported that accountants have been embracing this new technology to help them solve three broad issues:

  • Improving quality of data at a lower costs to aid better decision makingtechnology and accounting
  • Finding new insights through analysis of data
  • Freeing up time previously spent sifting through data, allowing accountants to focus on more valuable tasks such as; building relationships and problem solving.

More specifically AI programs have already been built for:

  • Automations for processes such as bank transactions. AI is integrated into most cloud accounting software platforms, when it pulls a transaction from your bank feed the AI helps categorise the expenses. After a few months of learning, it is likely to even be able to identify two transactions from the same supplier and know which one needs allocating where. For example you could have both your mobile phone and home broadband with Vodafone. The AI would be able to tell which one is which and could allocate one to telecoms and the other to home use.
  • Fraud detection - AI technology helped HMRC in 2018 identity over 17,000 unjustified repayment claims. WIth HMRC stating this was down to technology enabling them to analyse data much faster.
  • Reading contracts - AI is able to read long contracts and set up flags for any clauses you might want to look for.

Cloud accounting

Cloud Accounting has boomed in the UK with 90% of businesses expected to move to the cloud by 2020. This is no surprise really as cloud accounting allows for you to securely store your company accounts data and access the data from anywhere in the world.

Cloud Accounting

Other advantages of cloud accounting include:

  • Transparency between the client and accountant - A client can call up their accountant for advice and they will both be looking at the same up to date data. This allows accountants to deliver a better service as they can give more up to date accurate tax planning advice to the client.
  • Live snapshots - It displays to the client a live snapshot of their company including an estimated corporation tax bill, giving them an idea of how much money they should be setting aside.
  • Receipt upload - Most cloud software allows you to take a photo of your receipts and it will automatically upload the data to your account, categorise the expense and keep a copy of your receipts for your accounting records. No more sifting through piles of receipts.
  • VAT returns - Software such as FreeAgent includes the capability to submit your VAT Return through their software. In just a few clicks you’ll be able to make payments.
  • Bank feeds - Most software can connect to your business bank account, allowing for your transactions made on your business account to automatically appear in your accounting software. The software will also automatically categorise the expenses. 

Making tax digital
Making tax digital

In April 2020 one of the biggest changes to the accountancy sector will be happening. HMRC have committed to moving the UK tax system to a digital format, with the end goal being to end the self assessment and move to quarterly online returns. These are pretty bold claims but HMRC has already started to roll out a pilot scheme for VAT returns with the aim to move all VAT returns online from April 2019.

Furthermore HMRC have released a list of preferred accounting software partners, no doubt in the hope that more businesses make the decision to move to cloud accounting. They have however announced those wishing to remain on spreadsheets, will need to use an online convertor tool, which is yet to be released by HMRC.

Will technology replace accountants?

Of course not, quite the contrary according to a recent survey by cloud accounting software Xero, it showed online accounting software enabled practices to grow faster with less members of staff but still delivering first class customer service. This enabled the firms to hire more staff in a shorter time period than expected, as they were generating greater revenue than expected.

Another reason it will never replace an accountant, is just the sheer experience your accountant has, a bot can give you a figure but an accountant can explain the reasoning behind it and can adapt that figure to suit you. For example an accountant can advise you on tax planning to help you reduce your tax liabilities based on information about your lifestyle, but a bot would be unable to do this. Technology instead brings new layers of information in a few seconds for a accountant to work with to enable them to give you advice instantly and not 2 or 3 days later when they had to previously collate the information together."

 


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Published on: 13th December 2018

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