Tax & accounting firms should try to alleviate their workload by investing in more technology, but which should they choose?
Prioritization is key for the sanity and success of tax & accounting professionals today. Your skills and knowledge are in high demand, and like medical professionals, you feel stretched thin. One strategy to alleviate some of the workload is to develop a roadmap for investing in more technology that could help you streamline your work processes. But which technology? Artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, robotic process automation (RPA) and the cloud all offer a reprieve from the demanding workload, but where do you start?
One place to begin is by considering the attributes and possibilities of each:
Like many industries, tax & accounting could not have gotten through 2020 without cloud technology. Prior to the pandemic, most organizations used cloud technology on a daily basis, but many had not yet moved their entire workflow to the cloud. A survey performed by the Internal Audit Foundation and AuditBoard found that 22% of internal audit leaders responding reported that they will implement cloud-based technology in 2021.
Burnout and mental well-being is another issue plaguing the accounting profession, and team members require flex schedules and agile processes to accommodate all the demands on their time. Cloud technology enables flex working, job sharing, and additional communication options.
When COVID-19 hit those organizations that had only limited access to cloud solutions, they struggled with moving to remote work quickly while retaining productivity levels and staying connected. If this describes your firm’s situation, moving to a fully cloud-based platform is where you should begin.
Robotic process automation
Cloud technology also has the ability to exchange data between programs through application programming interfaces (APIs). Once an API is configured, the data flows to and from the systems. RPA is another technology that creates further automation by mimicking the behavior of team members.
Simply put, RPA uses software robots programmed to interface with other programs just like they were a team member. Tasks that are highly rules-based and repetitive are ideal for RPA. Consider time-consuming operations that your teams perform such as accounts payable, accounts receivable, payroll, etc. If your team did not have to perform these tasks you could reduce their workload and instead have them performing at their highest and best use. In a Deloitte annual survey, 94% of global executives said they have already implemented RPA or plan to within the next three years.
Automation-as-a-service (AaaS) is making RPA accessible to smaller organizations as well. In place of buying the technology and having to hire the staff to setup and maintain the systems, many new entrants are emerging that will develop and maintain the automation programming for your organization. The Deloitte survey found 64% of respondents are already using AaaS to implement intelligent automation.
Intelligent automation incorporates machine learning and AI into the RPA process. Indeed, by adding AI we can apply RPA to more complex scenarios that start to require more discernment.
The 2020 EY Global Financial Accounting Advisory Services corporate reporting survey asked leaders to envision what financial reporting will look like in three years. They found 76% of finance leaders anticipate it is “likely” or “very likely” that AI and machine learning will transform the financial close process and enable continuous close.
Today, AI is available in many accounting applications, including those that can analyze data, provide invoicing, code accounts payable… and the list is growing. Some fractional staffing companies that serve the accounting profession are using AI to match a candidate with specific organizations.
The takeaway is that we get to reimagine how our services and staffing can and should evolve if we employ AI as part of the team. AI augments the ability of your team by equipping them with analysis of complete datasets while reducing their production time. Like RPA, AI lessens the time and cost of production tasks and creates capacity for accounting professionals to develop insights and foresights, and engage further with your customers.
Blockchain is another technology showing promise in saving costs while transforming accounting and finance functions. Blockchain is a distributed ledger that captures both sides of the transaction and is visible to anyone in the blockchain. When accounting professionals have access to the complete transaction and the entire ledger the objective of an audit changes; the assurance becomes that of verifying processes and methodologies not the data itself. Depending on the industries you work within will determine the speed in which you should become well versed in Blockchain.
The 3rd annual Blockchain Symposium, hosted by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and CPA.com, in partnership with the Wall Street Blockchain Alliance, reported the top three use cases of blockchain are supply chain, cryptocurrency, and healthcare. Blockchain offers the ability for users to reduce costs by tracking and tracing distribution of everything from produce to prescriptions.
To prepare your organization for the transformational impact of blockchain, your teams’ education needs to begin now. Cryptocurrency tax reporting programs exist today, and AICPA even offers a Blockchain Certificate. Nonauthorized guidance on auditing digital assets is also available. Further, many government agencies are developing regulations around blockchain as yet another sign of the disruptive implications of this technology.
The need to act fast
There is no question that tax & accounting technology can help you alleviate the demands on our team and allow them to serve your customers at a higher level. It’s important to start assessing now whether you have the foundational pieces in place while creating a vision for the future.
The adoption of these tech tools is growing fast. Those organizations that don’t take the time to learn more, explore the use cases for the business and industries with which they work, and establish a digital transformation process will face greater challenges in the near future. By starting early, you can set the pace rather than to trying to keep up with your competition.