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Automation, digital working and your practice

Published on 20th December 2019

With tax season in full swing, it could be a good time to look at the benefits of automation – and what it could mean for you and your practice.

Digital technology, from the smartphone in your hand to the robots on the production floor - and the automated systems that support management – are changing every aspect of business these days.

Your clients are probably embracing digital technology,and looking at the next generation, which may include Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Artificial Intelligence (AI) Cognitive Processing and Advanced Analytics. 

They expect you, as their accountants, to be doing the same.

But are you and your practice lagging behind and still using procedures that would have been recognisable to an accountant from a century ago, rather than cutting edge solutions for 2020?

Accountants have to keep up

The government’s tax initiative, Making Tax Digital (MTD), may have brought matters to a head. The profession no longer has any choice. Automation has been coming for years. The business world as a whole has become digital. Your practice must follow suit if it is not to be left behind - and there is no way to deal with MTD if you don't.

It means entirely new ways of working. For example, rather than the accountant manually collecting data from many different formats - the back of the envelope is still not quite dead - and then manually plugging the data into the system, automation allows clients to input data themselves, direct for their book-keeping systems. This information is then read by ‘robots’, which enter this data straight into a tax return preparation software.

At the most basic level, it is a simple matter of making the most of valuable time to drive efficiency. Firms find it hard to ignore the advantages of emerging technologies that employ automation. Cutting time spent on arduous and menial tasks frees up more time to focus on adding value for clients, and ultimately increasing their - and your own - profitability.

But the fact remains that people resist change. For some accountants, automation can be a frightening prospect. With digital transformation comes new technologies such as AI – including Machine Learning, Optical Character Recognition (OCR), Robotic Process Automation (RPA) – which will automate many tasks in tax accounting.

Many accountants - and particularly older practitioners - see this a have a very real danger that their job is likely to be taken by some kind of robot and are digging their heels in. However, by removing some of the repetitive and routine task, it will allow accountants to change the way that they work, and provide an improved value proposition to clients.

With automation to take care of the routine work, you will be able to work more closely with your clients – and spend more time helping them to analyse data and to see the opportunities in other words, giving you more time to be a professional accountant than a data clerk.

With MTD a reality, and with full commitment to it from HMRC, you may actually have very little choice.

Is your practice ready to go digital? Do you have the funding in place to take advantage of digital development now? Find out more about funding your accountancy practice

So what are the advantages of going digital?

There are very real advantages to going ditial for your practice.

  • Efficiency: The more menial tasks may reduce, giving you more time to spend on productive work that your client will value, rather than routine number crunching that he will take for granted
  • Data: With digital transformation comes data, and data is valuable. Analytics tools turn data into a source of intelligence, and give you valuable insights which were always obscured in the past. Data can help create insights that inform decisions and influence the direction of an organisation and pave the way to greater profits.
  • Accessibility: While analytics was once the domain of analytics experts and IT specialists, with the quantity of data and data analytics now available, anyone in the client organization will expect to have access to data simply to do their jobs.  They want real time access. Clients don’t want to see their tax information at the end of the year or even at the end of the month. They want to see it now, in real time, and to use if for reports and projections of their own.

This data transparency is also important for regulatory bodies, and increasingly there will be an expectation that real-time information - on tax and other matters - is available to them.

Value-added for your practice

The creation of an advanced solution for clients that meets their expectations is a daunting task and a project only the largest firms have the resources to undertake. This is a luxury that many practices cannot afford, but there are some emerging tools available to firms looking to offer their clients a comprehensive tax service.

One example of this is the submission of personal tax returns. Rather than the you manually collecting data in many different formats and them inputting the data into the system, modern automated systems allows clients to input this data themselves from their book keeping software which can then read by robots which then input this data straight into a tax return preparation software, without error. This frees the your time up more to focus on other, more valuable tasks, benefiting both your client and your practice. 

So the question you should be asking is - just what is stopping you? 

Not knowing where to start may be one factor. Finding staff with the appropriate skill set can also be a serious challenge. Those who do have the necessary skills and accountancy qualifications may in short supply and command a premium salray. 

However, the biggest problem of all may be that of cost. The potential and the benefits are understood, but finding the funding for a complex digital transformation may be a problem. Finding the most cost-effective source can be a challenge as many lenders will still be in the dark about the potential of digital transformation. 

At Rangewell we can help.  We are experts in business finance. We know the lenders who can offer the most competitive rates, and those who may be the most appropriate when the challenge is out of the ordinary - as many lenders may see digital transformation as being. 

We can partner with you to help find the funding your practice needs. Not only are all our services free for you to call on as an accountant partner, but you can also use our service for your clients' funding needs and potentially add a new revenue stream for your practice. Find out more about partnering with Rangewell for yourself or your client and make business finance simple.

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Richard Mitchell

Richard Mitchell

Content writer
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