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Forbes Finance Council

How AI, Cloud, And Robots Will Revolutionize SMB Accounting

Robots, cloud software and artificial intelligence are all things that accountants fear will make them irrelevant. But the truth is that the real future of accounting and technology isn’t a technological advancement, it’s a trend toward a different model altogether.

Technology is evolving rapidly; according to Accenture, 80% of accounting and finance tasks will be delivered with automation in the next few years. This leaves many professionals wondering what the future of their jobs will look like, and where they fit into that future.

There’s no reason to be afraid. In fact, there are plenty of reasons to be excited for the future of accounting – as long as you’re not stuck in old ways and you are willing to becoming what I like to call a “robo-accountant.” I describe robo-accountants as accounting or finance professionals who have adopted automation to perform time-consuming, redundant and repeatable data-entry tasks. They aptly interface with these automation bots and use their personal experience, education and instincts to bring value to business decision makers.

Solutions Are More Important Than Tools

People talk about the future of accounting as though one piece of technology will take over the industry. Really, the future of accounting is much bigger than technology. It’s a trend towards an entirely new business model: solutions, not tools.

Accounting has been through countless technological revolutions. Since the beginning of modern business, there has been a need for accounting and bookkeeping. During the 13th century, medieval Europe moved to a monetary economy. The bankers and merchants in Venice and Florence found a strong need for accounting to keep track of their money, and thus double-entry bookkeeping was brought into the industry, and by the end of the 15th century, it was the standard.

Fast forward to the 20th century and the invention of mainframe computers. Suddenly, accountants at large enterprise corporations had access to the mass computing power of machines, albeit in a much slower, less user-friendly fashion than we’re used to today. In the 1990s, accounting software made it to small businesses – a fundamentally different audience than enterprise businesses.

Finally, in the 21st century, small business accounting technology moved into the cloud. Small business owners could now log into their accounts from a web browser and access their accounting tools anywhere, anytime. The present state of accounting and bookkeeping is focused on high-quality, low-cost, cloud-based tools.

The evolution of accounting tools is finished – the next frontier is solutions.

Cloud computing and artificial intelligence are technological advancements that will play supporting roles in this changeover from tools to solutions. Machines have the ability to compute massive amounts of data almost instantaneously, and humans have the ability to spot inconsistencies and exceptions to the rules. The key is pairing them together. Accountants will leverage the computing power of software and AI to help them better manage clients’ financials while providing an accounting and bookkeeping solution.

Technology is never the future on its own. The future is about the ways in which humans can leverage technology to make them better at delivering value in the market. That said, professionals who are prepared for this evolution will thrive.

How To Be Part Of The Solution

In this new world, you are no longer just a professional using a tool. You are an integral part of the customer solution. As you transform into a robo-accountant, your job will evolve by becoming increasingly less tedious over time. It will become less about entering data and more about assisting with high-level decisions. It will empower you to leverage your professional knowledge, not just your willingness to grind.

Here are a few ways you can move into the future right now:

  • Move everything to the cloud if it’s not already there. Big data and the ability to integrate with third-party automation, AI and machine learning will be critical.
  • Prepare yourself and your team to provide value-added analysis. As automation replaces the mundane pieces of accounting, your role will be to interpret data and communicate it to your clients. We suggest training your team to do this high-value service as soon as possible.
  • Learn about the needs of the small business market and how you can prepare to meet them. This market will be critical as the market moves into higher value, lower cost accounting.

With a new focus on technology, analysis and communication, you can move into new markets armed with the ability to best serve these entrepreneurs.

Scalable Solutions For Millions Of New Customers

In addition to spending more time on value-added services, there is a massive benefit to this new reality. You can now empower small business entrepreneurs.

The cost of accounting services will drop considerably as automation becomes commonplace. Millions of small business entrepreneurs who previously could not afford your services now can and will. They’ll have access to a plethora of high-quality robo-accountants, professionals who have integrated machine technology paired with human communication into their firms for maximum value to the customer.

Over the last nine years, I’ve been empowering entrepreneurs by doing their accounting and bookkeeping for them, and technology has been more and more important in our solution for these small business entrepreneurs. It allows us to bring them more information, more value, more analysis and more quality at a lower price.

Nothing excites me more than empowering small business entrepreneurs to grow their businesses in a way they never could before. Small businesses make up about 99% of businesses in the American economy and employ 50% of the American workforce. This is a largely untapped market of 28 million businesses that need and want our help. Thanks to technology, now we can give it.

 

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