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Businesswoman Wearing VR Headset Running A Business Meeting At Home
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Could Apple’s VR gamble take accountancy into the metaverse?

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An accountant has taken on the challenge of using virtual reality tools to file a set of accounts. While the trial was successful, it also highlighted that the technology has a long way to go before it reaches widespread acceptance in the profession. 

14th Jun 2023
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At last week’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple set tech tongues wagging with news that it was moving into the world of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) with the launch of its Apple Vision Pro headset.

A slick demo video shows remote workers discussing vague work plans on giant screens projected by the headset, which promises to “make collaboration easier”. But after sifting through the hype, the question remains for VR-curious accountants: what practical use could such technology be for those looking for efficiencies or to explore new ways of working? 

Inspired by the events at WWDC, Aaron Patrick, director of accounts at Derby-based accounting firm Boffix, decided to conduct a basic test to find out where VR was in 2023 and answer a number of vital questions about the underlying technology. Could he file a client’s accounts with HMRC using a VR headset? How replicable is the process for accountants looking to use it for day-to-day work? And what other benefits could the technology potentially bring?

“I’ve been playing around with VR for about four years,” Patrick told AccountingWEB, “but this was the first time it’s made sense from a practical point of view. QuickBooks’ new tax software is browser-based so I didn’t have to worry about optimising screen size to make sure my tax and accounts program could fit – I knew the VR browser could, in theory, do it.”

Using his Meta Quest Pro, a headset designed for business-related activity from Facebook’s parent company Meta, Patrick set about testing the tool. 

After donning the VR headset, Patrick used the inbuilt browser to log into his QuickBooks account, navigating using the self-tracking in-hand controllers included with the headset that act as your hands. Once in the relevant workpapers section, he checked the client’s numbers, then using QuickBooks Online’s new Pro Tax tool he filed the accounts with HMRC.

You can watch a short video of Patrick demonstrating the accounting filing process below.

VR not ready for the real world

Patrick was quick to point out that he’d filed the accounts as a demonstration that it could be done, rather than to foretell that this will be the way all accountants work in the future.

While the VR test was ultimately a success, Patrick admitted it took much longer than filing a set of accounts in the real world, and at this stage had several choke-points that prevented it from being a smooth process.  

“The first hurdle to jump through is signing in to your accounting software. You have to go into the VR, enter your login details, then go out again to get the two-factor authentication code,” he said.

Patrick also flagged that for accountants looking to input any amount of data, the current keyboard options for VR enthusiasts are unlikely to set pulses racing.

“There are currently two keyboard options in a VR environment,” he said. “The first is a virtual keyboard that floats in mid-air before the user and you type away in front of you. It’s not tactile and can be very mistake-prone. You almost need to relearn how to type.”

The second option is to link an actual Bluetooth keyboard to the VR setup. You type on the real keyboard and the headset’s cameras pick it up and insert it into the VR landscape. While the workaround did the job, it’s another piece of kit to hook up and potentially carry around, not to mention the fact it’s not a “pure VR experience”. 

The future benefits of VR for accountants

For Patrick, once the flaws have been ironed out, there are many potential benefits that accountants and accounting firms could see from mixed-reality tech. 

Firstly, the ability to stick a VR headset in your bag and recreate a working environment from anywhere with a decent internet connection stands out.

“If you’re working away or at a conference, you could have a three-monitor set-up and all the apps you usually have available,” said Patrick. “If a VR vendor gets it right, you could potentially be as productive as if you’re using your home set-up rather than tapping away on a small laptop.”

The Apple Vision Pro will reportedly be available for $3,499 in the United States. While the cost may be eye-watering for all but the most well-remunerated of partners, perhaps the tech giant is hoping that businesses will consider it as part of a wider package.

The price and practicality of having multiple ultra-wide monitors at your disposal makes the pill a little bit easier to swallow – particularly when backed up with the ability to pair the headset with an iPhone or iPad, making them full-blown work machines with the option of larger screens.

From a wider perspective, one of the biggest benefits of VR or AR technology could be in its application in training remote workers. 

“People miss face-to-face training,” said Patrick. “Remote work has led to less in-person training, and the standard is dipping because we’re not sitting next to people. A lot of people feel like there’s an element that’s missing with standard video calls. AR or VR could be really beneficial for remote workers.”

Instead of screen sharing, Patrick highlighted that trainers could share worker or student perspectives, guiding them through training materials, helping them figure out processes or showing exactly what they’re trying to achieve and how. 

The prospect of a full VR accountancy firm has also been raised. The likes of PwC and US firm Prager Metis rushed to snap up land in the Metaverse when it was hot property back in December 2021 – although both are yet to provide updates on how this experiment has progressed.

For many accountants, the prospect of avatar-to-avatar chat with their clients may seem like a vaguely comical suggestion. However, where in-person client meetings are not possible, a VR meeting in a virtual office from the comfort of respective homes or offices could be a step up from a standard video call.

Even the most tech-friendly accountant has to admit that the incursion of VR into the profession is unlikely to occur for many years. However, with Apple and other large tech vendors staking a large chunk of their reputations and cash on the success of the tech, betting against it in the long term may be a risky business – even if it is currently a solution looking for an accounting problem.

Replies (2)

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By JustAnotherUser
15th Jun 2023 08:50

Been using VR for years now, its getting there slowly and coming on leaps and bounds, when breakthroughs in technology allow for cheaper components for lighter weight, faster CPU, better screens all at a low cost it will happen a lot faster.

Using the multi monitor virtual desktop in VR had a steep learning curve but if the choice is just a laptop and track pad vs VR I choose VT every time (mainly when travelling where I cant take extra monitors and gear)

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By Duggimon
15th Jun 2023 11:08

The benefits with VR start and stop with it being a screen you can strap to your face. The idea of interfacing with clumsy gestures instead of mouse/keyboard is a resounding step backwards.

I don't want a virtual environment where I can converse with avatars, I just want what I have now but better and this isn't it. VR goggles are much easier to carry with you than two or more monitors, so they've done well there. There are no other interesting aspects to the VR revolution yet, as regards working life at least.

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