The Bots are coming. Don’t imagine Wall-E or the humanoid robots from i,Robot. Instead, bots are layers of code that are used to automate relatively simple or basic tasks in order to save humans time. Recently, much has been written about the surge of bots in the world of bookkeeping and accounting. Industry leaders such as QuickBooks and Xero recently have announced positive developments in their integration of bots into their accounting platforms, while other companies like Botkeeper have entered the industry solely to help integrate bots into the financial world.
A common theme through these developments has been the question, “How will this affect bookkeepers and accountants?” as well as, “Will bots replace these professionals?”. As the owner of a bookkeeping firm, my goal is to be on the forefront of this change in the industry in order to not become like the VCR, typewriter, and horse-drawn carriage. Bots and automation already have changed the industry in many positive ways, namely that we no longer need to use physical ledgers, journals, and other methods of record-keeping but instead can easily access all of this data on the cloud. These positive changes will continue to occur and bots are a large part of this, but what part do human bookkeepers take as these changes occur? I’ve come up with four important areas of the financial industry bookkeepers will be essential in while working with bots and automation.
- Analysis – This is one of the most important roles bookkeepers can take on with the assistance of bots. Automation allows data to be found and compiled much more effectively, leading to more time for analysis. This is an essential role as this information, more than anything else the bookkeeper can give a business owner, allows the business owner to make informed decisions, grow their business, outperform competition, and create a profitable business. This valuable information is the main reason business owners should be working with bookkeepers and includes benchmarking, trend analysis, ratio analysis and much more. This can even include financial systems such as Profit First, which can be used to make sure business owners compensate themselves well and streamline expenses and debt as much as possible
- Customer Interactions – This is my favorite part of the job and a piece that I believe is permanently in human hands. If you’ve even chatted with a support bot or an automated customer service system, you know that AI does not measure up to humans in customer service. When a client is frustrated with QuickBooks, can’t find out why there are duplicate transactions, or is trying to find why they were charged twice as much this month than last month, humans are the great communicators. A quality bookkeeper should be quick to respond, but more than that, should understand their clients: Why they’re in business, what they want to accomplish, what their pain points are, and what motivates them. Knowing this information allows the bookkeeper to create personalized solutions to their client, while also allowing them to narrow in on the problems that need to be solved and the information that needs to be analyzed and passed on. Finally, being a small business owner and sole decision maker can be a lonely existence. Having a real person to set goals, game-plan with, and vent with is a necessity.
- Problem-Solving – Automation is a beautiful thing in the bookkeeping field, but automation makes mistakes and has glitches. As automation continues to improve and goes through it’s “growing pains”, humans will need to be available and present to problem-solve the glitches and mistakes. Many clients also need a historical clean-up of their bookkeeping, meaning that not all information is online or available, or, available information is incorrect or partial information. Bots work beautifully in many situations, but are not yet capable of wading through the chaotic situation of a cleanup of past months or years. Bookkeepers are needed to onboard clients, clean-up potential months of mistakes, and help optimize systems.
- Internal Controls – Internal controls are the systems that are in place to protect a business’s finances and ensure fraudulent or other criminal activity cannot take place. Effective bookkeepers are a necessary piece of internal controls as they see all financial activity happening inside of a business. If the business owner, accountant, and bookkeeper are able to share financial duties inside of the business while also being aware of all cash flowing in and out of the business there is very little chance for criminal activity to take place. Most fraudulent activity happens when one individual inside of a business is given all access or power to send or receive money. Having these duties distributed between multiple professionals allows easy oversight and sharing of responsibility
Automation and bots are an integral part of the future of bookkeeping and accounting. This doesn’t signal the end of bookkeepers or accountants, it only signals a need to continue evolving as the field evolves. Bots will not bring about the end of bookkeeping, but instead the replacement of human bookkeepers completing repetitious bookkeeping activities in favor of human bookkeepers being freed to work on high level tasks, bringing higher profits and more healthy business to business owners everywhere.