In 2017, the media is full of sensationalist stories of how ‘a robot will replace your job‘. But developments in artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and software automation offer a much bigger opportunity for most accountancy firms than they do a threat.
An algorithm is far more likely to help you get more work done than it is to replace your role as an accountant. And it’s this synergy of software efficiency and human expertise that’s driving the adoption of AI and machine learning in accounting and fintech platforms.
So, if you’re in the dark when it comes to the benefits of AI, here's our lowdown on how AI can transform your accounting processes, your customer service and your practice marketing.
The Opportunity for Accountants
Artificial intelligence (AI) software mimics the way humans think, allowing software to learn through experience and perform basic tasks. By processing large amounts of data and recognising patterns, AI can make recommendations or spot issues. And because these algorithms process larger amounts of data in less time than we can, AI has become a hugely powerful tool for analysing and automating low-level business functions.
When Netflix suggests a show you may like, based on your previous viewing, or your bank queries a transaction that doesn’t fit your usual spending pattern, it’s AI that’s powering this.
So, how can this be applied to accounting? What’s the AI opportunity for accountants?
What AI and machine learning can do, and already does do in platforms like Xero, is carry out a lot of the basic bookkeeping, financial housekeeping and CRM admin jobs – the kind of coding, data-entry and repetitive admin tasks that software excels at, and humans find less interesting.
But AI can also process and analyse client data at speeds no human can achieve, and this is where the key advantage of AI comes into play – helping you to spot patterns, trends and issues in data and accounts, leading to deeper, more proactive interactions with these businesses.
We’ve broken this down into four core benefits of adopting AI in your firm.
1. Automation and the Push for Efficiency
Improving the efficiency of workflows and practice systems is a key goal of any aspirational accounting firm – and AI-driven automation can be a huge driver of this productivity.
The machine learning capabilities of AI – the ability for software to automatically learn and improve through experience and the input of data – make it possible to automate many of the low-end elements of your bookkeeping tasks.
Automatically coding your transactions, for example, speeds up the input of receipts and reduces the error levels in your bookkeeping. So the job gets done more quickly, the quality of your data is higher – and your junior staff have more time available for higher value work.
2. Diving Deep into Your Client Data
An algorithm eats, sleeps and breathes data. It doesn’t get tired and it never has a ‘bad day at the office’. Your AI-based software tools are constantly, and tirelessly, processing, analysing and deconstructing your client accounting data, 24/7.
By taking the outputs from this data analysis, AI can offer insights into the numbers and then suggest proactive ways for you and your team to work more closely with business clients.
Software can flag up potential cash-flow issues, suggest a conversation about expense variances or even remind you that a client’s VAT return is due and hasn’t been filed.
3. Driving a More Proactive Client Relationship
AI’s ability to dive into the data, to pull out the hidden pearls of wisdom and to then flag the important issues, opportunities and actions makes it more than just a passive piece of software.
Increasingly, your algorithms are becoming a vital part of your firm. They’re not going to replace a team of qualified, experienced accounting professionals any time soon, but AI is allowing your people to move away from the mundane and routine elements of accounting.
With less focus on compliance work, your people can focus their time and expertise on working directly with clients. This helps to cement your important client relationships, improves the commercial experience of your junior staff and allows clients to improve their business finances.
4. Enhancing Marketing Through Real-Time Analysis
AI has the potential to revolutionise your financial processes and client conversations. But algorithms don’t just help with accounting – AI also helps you market the firm more effectively.
Your digital and social marketing can be improved by applying exactly the same benefits of AI, algorithms and machine learning, helping you to specifically target your ideal clients.
This enhanced targeting and analysis of your marketing involves three key stages:
- Collect – client and target data is collected through your marketing campaigns and lead generation activity, and stored in your CRM system. This then becomes an incredibly valuable data source, that can be processed by your AI marketing systems.
- Reason – algorithms in your marketing software analyse this lead data in real time, looking at the behaviour and engagement of your audience. This reasoning process can then segment the audience and suggest productive ways to re-target these businesses.
- Act – in a fully automated AI-driven system, your marketing software then uses its reasoning capabilities to take action. This could mean sending specific emails to one audience segment, or refining a campaign to make it more effective next time around.
The average small business spends 20 hours per week on marketing – but for many busy accountants, finding 20 hours to focus on non-fee-earning work may be a struggle.
The answer is to use AI based smart technology to drive your marketing, by updating your CRM data, running your campaigns and providing key analytics and recommendations. With AI, you’ll remove the complexity from your marketing decisions and you can get on with being that trusted advisor.
Boma’s advanced machine learning capability continuously crunches your campaign data, suggesting new ideas and opportunities to better engage with your audience
Embrace an AI-Driven Accounting Firm
35% of our existing work skills will change in the near future, according to the The Future of Work report from the World Economic Forum, and accounting is an industry where real change and reskilling will be needed to help firms meet the new challenges of the digital age.
Machine learning is automating the lion’s share of the bookkeeping, and AI-driven analytics tools are providing deeper client insights and giving your marketing the edge. The real task now, for a modern accountant, is coming up with a strategy for optimising these AI tools – delivering high-level financial and business advice to a truly targeted audience of business clients.
With ‘complex problem solving’ highlighted as the number one occupational skill by 2020, it’s time to let the software do the number crunching work, and let you and your team do what you do best – coming up with human solutions to your clients’ financial issues.
About the Author: Steve Ash is a specialist in accounting, marketing, business software and fintech apps.