How to get started on your accountancy automation journey

How to get started on your accountancy automation journey

Modulr's Edwin Abl has some top tips about the best ways to get started on your automation journey and reap the benefits of digitisation in your practice

There’s been a buzz around automation within accountancy and what it means for the profession for quite a while. In recent months, the conversation has shifted from the risks that robots present to the benefits they can bring. But even if you are entirely on board with the idea of automation, it’s hard to know how and where to begin. How can you ensure your automation approach is the right one for your business?

How will automation change accountancy?

In March 2019, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published a report on the occupations at highest risk of being automated alongside data on the probability of automation in England. Based on the analysis of the jobs of 20 million people working in England in 2017, the ONS reported that just over a quarter (26%) of chartered and certified accountant jobs were ‘at risk’ of being automated. This compared to 56% of bookkeeper, payroll manager and wage clerk jobs being threatened, 48% of finance officer jobs at risk and 36% of financial account manager jobs.

On the flipside, there’s been a raft of reports on how robotic process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI) and intelligent automation (IA) are benefiting accountants. The ACCA, Deloitte, EY, the ICAEW, KPMG and PWC have all published reports that look at how accountancy practices and in-house teams can save time and money by adopting automation methods.

Why should accountants embrace automation?

On the surface, the ONS findings look like bad news for accountants with one in four fewer roles being available in the future. However, based on evidence and research from accountants, the professional bodies and Big Four firms paint a different picture with considerable gains to be made through automation. Not only is it possible to handle increased workloads and offer more value-added services by automating repetitive manual tasks, many predict that the net effect of automation will be an increase in jobs.

Automation will be undertaken as part of a broader programme of digital transformation by all organisations. It’s an inevitable change. And accountancy firms are no different. All businesses need to adopt more efficient ways of working to stay competitive, relevant and commercially viable. Some sectors see the effect of adoption – or failure to adapt – faster than others, but ultimately all businesses will prosper or suffer to some degree based on the speed and extent by which they automate and transform.

Which elements of automation should you focus attention on?

There are lots of highly manual, time-consuming, error-prone and repetitive tasks that accountancy firms and in-house teams undertake that are prime candidates for automation. A large part of the work accountants perform is transactional, mathematical, computational and rule-based, making it quick and easy to automate.  The basic rule is if you can document a standard set of procedures for something, then you can automate it. Exceptions, checkpoints and alerts can easily be built into an automated journey to flag instances that require human intervention providing the opportunity to semi-automate even the most complex of workflows.

Through the adoption of different automation methods, you can eliminate the manual effort of filing, reconciling, auditing, researching, analysing, reporting and even handling client and stakeholder queries and requests. Identify existing pain points and assess opportunities to expedite manual processes that will free up time and money to deliver and promote higher value consultancy services.

Where do you start, and how do you measure success?

By taking a holistic and strategic approach to automation you will maximise your return on investment.  From the outset, define not only the processes you can, and want to, automate but also the areas that would benefit from the redeployment of the time, resources and budget you would save. For example, if you determined that automating supplier payments for your clients or business could save you 16 hours per week, consider how that time would be better spent. Could you use those 16 hours each week to increase engagement activities selling in additional higher-value services to your clients and stakeholders?

Looking at the complete picture is imperative, but you also need to dig into the details so you can define your objectives, e.g. reduce time spent on clients’ supplier payments by 40% in order to use the time saved to increase client engagement by 60%. This will give you a solid starting point for researching potential automation service providers.

Don’t rush through the service provider selection process; take your time to assess and analyse all the information. You need to choose the provider that can deliver against your objectives, to your timeframe and budget with minimal effort and disruption to your practice or business. If only there was a way to automate THAT process.

  • This article was written by Edwin Abl at Modulr, in partnership with Accountancy Age. Modulr is the new integrated payment service for businesses that need a faster, easier and more reliable way to move money.Modulr’s API and platform delivers automated payouts, simplified pay-ins and the ability to launch new payment services for clients and software partners within employment services, lending, fintech, travel and more. Read more on the Modulr website.
  • Sage has partnered with Modulr to enable accountants to quickly, accurately and securely process payments directly from Sage 50cloud Accounts, Sage 50cloud Payroll and Sage 200cloud products. The automated payment service uses Modulr’s payment accounts to provide access to payment services 24/7, 365 days of the year. The delegate access feature allows accountants to process payments collaboratively with their clients to reduce the risks of delays and errors.
  • To find out more about Sage Salary and Supplier Payments powered by Modulr, visit the Sage website.

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