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A bookkeeper carefully checking the numbers | AccountingWEB | The challenges ahead for bookkeepers
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The challenges ahead for the modern bookkeeper

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Ahead of the Festival of Accounting & Bookkeeping, the ICB’s Ami Copeland explores the challenges and the trends that will shape the community over the next 12 months.

29th Jan 2024
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The new year has already thrown up a number of challenges for bookkeepers, whether that’s the rapid rise of artificial intelligence and the potential labour-replacing threat that it brings, or the increasing need to stand out in a growing market.

Ami Copeland, CEO of the ICBBut for Ami Copeland (left), the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers’ (ICB) CEO, these challenges, changes and trends actually present an opportunity for bookkeeping firms to thrive in 2024.  

Speaking ahead of the Festival of Accounting & Bookkeeping (FAB), where she will be discussing these challenges in the two-day event’s specially curated Bookkeeping Retreat for the community, Copeland highlighted the “huge boom” in bookkeeping firms starting up, which she attributes to businesses realising the “ongoing expert support you can get from a bookkeeper”.   

She said: “I think there’s a new recognition of what regular bookkeeping from a professional bookkeeper can do to a business. We’re seeing our bookkeepers transforming the outcomes for the businesses they work for and bringing order from chaos.”

Be successful on your own terms

While the number of bookkeeping firms is increasing, not all bookkeepers are following the same path to success. 

Copeland said that many bookkeepers are diversifying their services through taking on compliance work, such as tax returns, and using this as a route into offering higher value services, but she posited that bookkeeping in itself “opens the door” to having “important conversations with clients and helping those businesses on a higher level”. 

She added, “We’ve observed that bookkeepers don’t need to offer higher-level services, like advisory or tax returns, if they don’t want to, because there’s a huge number of firms out there doing really great bookkeeping and monthly accounts for businesses. So this provides an opportunity for bookkeepers of any walk of life, in any shape or size to be successful on their own terms.” 

Copeland said that there are so many different ways to have a great career in the bookkeeping profession. “Don’t say you’re ‘just’ a bookkeeper. There’s no stigma attached to being a bookkeeper. You can be ‘just a bookkeeper’ and be proud of it. You can fill your time doing that and be very profitable.”

Rise of artificial intelligence

But no matter which path bookkeepers take, the one unavoidable challenge is the rise in artificial intelligence (AI). Since last year, AI has become more and more sophisticated and it doesn’t look like the hype is going to plunge into the trough of disillusionment any time soon. 

Accountants and bookkeepers will be able to discover the latest developments in AI and understand how the technology will change the landscape of the industry at the Festival of Accounting & Bookkeeping, with expert analysis from speakers across the profession and technology luminaries. 

Many bookkeepers, however, may see the rise of AI as a potential threat. But Copeland thinks bookkeepers should be open-minded about technological advancements, even going as far as to describe bookkeeping as “a technology job now”. 

She explained that the role of the bookkeeper is really to be “the buffer on behalf of the businesses they work with”, whether that’s between HMRC and the business owners or the accountant and the business owner. 

So with AI added to the mix, Copeland sees bookkeepers becoming a “human copilot” who would be “translating all of these changes in the requirements into something that is meaningful for the business owner”. 

There is no question though that there is a lot of uncertainty with AI. Copeland even noted that it’s set to be “massively labour-replacing” and that “we don’t know what the world is going to look like in 25 years’ time”. But she sees bookkeepers as having a much more solid position than other professions because their role is already to talk in the business owners’ language so they’re “going to be the ones that are being leaned on to help with AI”. 

“I think there’s a challenge from all sides of the AI taking some of the work away. And that’s what I think will really play to the bookkeepers’ strength, because bookkeepers are so driven by the clients – the benefit of the client. The more they can keep their client top of mind, the more they can maximise their unique selling point, which is really that there’s regular touch points with clients.” 

She added, “If you as a bookkeeper don’t understand how to use AI, it’s likely that your client doesn’t know how to use AI – but they’re going to expect you to be able to tell them.”

Ami Copeland also will be speaking at FAB, where she will be getting under the hood of the modern bookkeeper and exploring the changes, challenges and trends facing bookkeepers over the next 12 months.

Book your FREE ticket today!

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