Artificial intelligence has already begun to impact on our everyday lives and the technological revolution we are witnessing is set to transform the accounting profession – and the relationship between accountants and SMEs.
That changing relationship will benefit accountants and businesses, heralding new ways of working and putting our service and knowledge at the heart of business development and strategy for the good of SMEs and the wider economy.
There is no doubt that we are on a journey that is going in only one direction. Sophisticated accounting software and systems will change our role as artificial intelligence (AI), smart machine learning and increased automation takes over traditional accountancy roles such as bookkeeping and data entry.
And the direction we are heading is already being well signposted. As bookkeeping moves ever further towards automation and out of human hands, cloud-based software companies are planning to eliminate coding invoices for payment.
This move is being reported as one of the biggest changes ever to happen to accounting, and is predicted to save small businesses thousands of hours.
In the future, the way businesses will look after their figures and carry out transactions is set to look very different from today, with spread sheets consigned to the history books.
In this fully automated, AI-driven future, where coding work and data entry will no longer be required, tax returns, invoicing and payment will all be carried out by smart machines with not a single human hand involved in the process.
As this technological revolution rolls on we will eventually see cashless tills in shops and the creation of national and international invoicing networks business will register with – smart machines ‘talking’ to each other to get payments processed and paid automatically, again with no human involvement.
Some may see this brave new world as a threat to jobs and to the accountancy profession. I see it as a real opportunity both for individuals and businesses. AI will be transformational, but in a good way. As smart machines and systems take away more and more of the bookkeeping, accountants will have more time to act in a business consultancy role for their clients.
And as a result of these smart and automated systems will have all the data available in real time to interpret and use to give our small business clients the information and advice and the recommendations they need to take the decisions that will help them grow.
In this new advisory role we will be able to use our knowledge to help companies make those strategic decisions, acting more like financial directors for small businesses, rather than straight number crunchers.
And as a result of this change in our role we will also be creating more value for the business and helping drive the wider economy.
As this new landscape emerges there will be different roles and specialisms within accountancy practices. As well as the financial advisers we will see systems specialists developing, opening up new jobs and opportunities in the sector.
These will be the highly knowledgeable professionals that set up the automated bookkeeping systems for businesses, ensuring they are the right platforms and are correctly integrated for their clients.
All this isn’t going to happen overnight. It is a gradual long-term journey towards full automation in all areas. And as that journey takes place standards will have to be created and agreed along the way. That will take time.
But make no mistake, AI is already part of our daily lives – it exists in smartphones, digital cameras, microwave cookers, things we take for granted.
This new revolution is not something we should fear; instead we need to embrace the fact that it can be used to unlock increased productivity both for ourselves and our clients – strengthening working relationships and allowing us to create real growth.