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Safe Hands | AccountingWEB | AI tops the list of bookkeeping trends

AI tops the list of bookkeeping trends


The rise of artificial intelligence is one of the challenges facing the bookkeeping sector, but ‘if you stop acting like a robot, you won’t be replaced by one’. 

15th Apr 2024
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Artificial intelligence (AI) is at the forefront of the conversation in bookkeeping and, with the Accounting Excellence Awards 2024 open for entries, it’s as good a time as any to look at the challenges the sector is facing as the successor to last year’s Bookkeeping Team of the Year, Safe Hands (pictured above collecting their award, alongside host Tom Allen) is sought.

Jo Wood – a director at Jo Wood Virtual FD and a judge for the 2024 event – noted that there has been “lots of talk about AI and the fact that while it’s not going to take your job, somebody who uses it will”.

“That’s been the trend – people asking what it is, how’s it working and so on,” she added. “We’ve also been talking about the safeguarding of clients and information – the security and the ethics around it.

“I think there’s always a bit of fear when there’s something new. We’re all creatures of habit but I think we’re talking about it in a very positive way and about how to utilise it.

“You’re using it anyway with Dext and Xero. When you log in to Zoom, there’s an AI feature. It’s about recognising it and being open to the conversations; learning more about it and trying to stay up to speed.”

Keeping the conversation open

Wood said she’s “not telling everyone to start making their own bots,” but does note that “some of our bookkeepers are, and they’ve been very open about the fact that some things work and some things don’t”.

“We’re not trying to stay ahead of the curve but we’re keeping the conversation open so we don’t fall so far behind.

“There’s always something. Like with Excel and computers, cloud accounting – every time there’s a new product, bookkeepers are told their jobs are going to be taken and they never are.

“If you stop acting like a robot, you won’t be replaced by one; that’s why personal brand is so important – becoming more visible rather than hiding behind logos and websites.”

Shying away from cashflow

Away from AI, Wood spoke about cashflow being a trend currently on the table in bookkeeping, believing that “people shy away”.

“There aren’t really cashflow qualifications to say ‘Yes, you are qualified to be able to help someone with cashflow’. Yet, we’ll do a budget at home and I think if you can figure out how much money you’ve got to spend on the food shop, you can help a business owner figure their situation out once you’ve worked out the direct debits and the salaries. Why are we not helping more with the ebbs and flows of our cash?

“So we’ve been talking about that – stop waiting for a qualification to say you’re okay to do this. Everyone knows they should be doing cashflow but business owners don’t make the time for it. So it’s a really valuable task.”

The mindset challenge

In a similar vein, Wood noted that mindset “is one of the biggest challenges from both sides – changing our clients’ mindsets that bookkeeping is an investment and not a cost”.

“It’s an investment,” she said. “Bookkeepers assume no one’s going to buy from them and then they start reducing their prices when they should be increasing them because of inflation.

“So that’s been a challenge for us as coaches in the industry – noticing that the cost-of-living crisis coming off the back of Covid has made everyone think that no one wants their services when actually, they need them and their investment.”

Say what you see

Wood believes she started to become one of the better bookkeepers when she “stepped away from the computer and the software, and started saying what I could see”.

“Sometimes there’s this internal dialogue that isn’t said out loud to the business owner, who could really benefit. What does the bookkeeper see naturally? How can they have a coffee with someone and just say, ‘would you mind if I shared these things I can see with you?’

“That’s when excellence starts because sitting at a table with a business owner they’re sitting there as peers rather than as a service provider and just saying, ‘here are some things I’ve noticed’.

“That’s massive and it’s not anything that you need to know or get any more qualifications on; you’ve just got to get out of your own way, get away from the computer and have a chat.

“That is sometimes the hardest thing.”

Is your firm doing more than just keeping the books? Can it demonstrate how its service contributes to the wider success of client businesses? If so, you could be lifting the Bookkeeping Team of the Year trophy – sponsored by Iris – at the Accounting Excellence Awards on 8 October. Click here to enter and for more information.

Replies (5)

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By Rob Swan
16th Apr 2024 08:31

'Wood believes she started to become one of the better bookkeepers when she “stepped away from the computer and the software, and started saying what I could see”.'

In my experience and opinion this is actually what most small (and maybe larger SME) business owners actually expect from their bookkeeper or accountant. Most (in my experience) suffer a fairly uncomfprtable meeting, onece a year, when annual accounts and the tax bill are presented. It's an uncomfortable 20-30 minutes for both parties with polite-ish chit-chat with the accountant/bookkeeper not wanting to embarass the client and the client not wanting to look stupid and not really understanding their accounts - because so many don't.

If accountants and accountant/bookkeepers are a little more 'human' in these situations and not afraid to both offer their views and explain them in laymans terms where necessary, the client relationships would improve enormously, the client would appreciate much greater value from their accountant, and no extra cost is incurred by the accountant in doing this. The client might even ask for more frequent input/feedback, which results directly in more work and income for the accountant/bookkeeper.

Before I learned bookkeeping and accounting I went through many accountants, asking explicitly for such advice and feedback. It was always promised but never provided, hence the turnover. In the end I took it upon myself to learn and do it myself. Result: the accoutnig profession gained a poor reputation and lost a client.

Most small business owners - again, my experience - actually want 'business advice' from their accountant, as this article illustrates.

Thanks (2)
Replying to Rob Swan:
By Chandra kant
17th Apr 2024 02:27

I totally agree. IMO (as a newbie on this forum I should add), I think accounting needs to be more human and accountants need to offer more of a business advice function to their customers than just provide accounts at the end of the year. That's the only way to counter the exponential growth of outsourcing to other countries if you ask me.

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Replying to Chandra kant:
By johnjenkins
18th Apr 2024 09:35

Most Accountants do offer the full package. in fact if you are trained properly it becomes second nature. What has really messed everything up is the amount of compliance needed in order to do the job properly.

Thanks (1)
By cbp99
16th Apr 2024 09:17

'Wood believes she started to become one of the better bookkeepers when she “stepped away from the computer and the software, and started saying what I could see”.'

Ie, the opposite of MTD.

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Replying to cbp99:
By FactChecker
16th Apr 2024 19:18

Agreed ... but the interesting aspect of the story (given that it was supposed to be about AI) doesn't seem to have been touched on at all.

The only ways in which Wood seems to contemplate the possible introduction of AI into her services (and then only by inference) is the 'automation' of large chunks of data capture and bookkeeping.

But, based both on logic and on what various teams are known to be currently 'working on' (aka researching/developing), what about when:
- AI completes the tax returns (albeit maybe subject to human 'sign-off')?
- AI parses the draft accounts and identifies potential alternative tax treatments?
- AI 'learns' the details of a company's accounts for last 5 years, compares these with the equivalent for nearest competitors and identifies potential M&A options?

I could go on but, even without any true 'intelligence' (let alone sentience), the sheer power and speed of consuming data and 'learning' from it ... means that there's no reason to suppose that AI will leave Wood to plough her path alone.

And all of that is before even beginning to consider what might be the worst nightmare of people on this site ... access to the AI by the people who are currently your clients, or (shivers) MDTP!

Thanks (4)