Automation is transforming many industries, replacing repetitive and dangerous tasks, improving safety, and delivering substantial savings in time and costs while reducing errors.
Accountancy is one area that is ripe for disruption. Automation can be used to reduce manual data entry across the sector. Whether you’re recording transactions in a paper ledger or inputting data into an online software program, the process can be tedious and errors are inevitable due to the detailed nature of the tasks.
Manual data entry is time-consuming work and smaller practices might lack the resources to employ junior employees to complete these tasks.
Automation can save your accountancy practice precious time, which can be spent assisting your clients with growing their businesses and help you to be seen as a trusted adviser.
Additionally, when you reduce manual data entry, highly skilled employees can focus on more complex work that can command higher hourly fees.
As regulatory processes continue to move toward digitalisation – the Revenue Commissioners system is almost fully digital – having all of your records in a digital format will further streamline the tax filing process, reducing stress before the deadline.
New technologies such as optical character recognition have transformed the area of data capture, and these advances have significant potential for use in the accountancy sector.
Chartered Accountants Ireland recently announced the addition of robotic process automation to its syllabus.
Commenting on new technological advances that can benefit the accountancy sector, Jeremy Twomey, Practice Consulting Manager, Chartered Accountants Ireland, says adoption of software into practice is “a prerequisite nowadays; it’s not simply a benefit”.
He adds: “If you’re not embracing technology going forward, you risk not being able to transition your firm and the services you provide to the next generation of business owners.”
How automation can benefit you and your clients
For small and larger practices, moving from office-based systems to cloud technology can offer employees the potential of more flexible working arrangements, making it easier when out and about at conferences or client meetings to connect and record their documents.
Twomey says automation can help accountants move away from lower-fee compliance work to focus on assisting their clients to grow their business and provide them with strategic advice.
He says: “While automation in such areas as data entry can also help you save on employee costs, that’s not the primary benefit anymore.
“You can use the time savings that automation brings in compliance-related areas to allow you to dedicate more of your time to advising your clients on planning for the future, for example how to grow their businesses.”
Twomey says much of the work that can be automated such as bookkeeping and day-to-day entry of invoices, which is very monotonous if you’re doing it continually. Implementing an automated system can help employees do more high-level tasks involving decision-making and strategy.
Here are some of the benefits that automation can offer you and your clients:
Automating record keeping of paperwork such as invoices, receipts and compliance documents will save you significant chunks of time. By reducing manual data entry practices, meeting deadlines will be more achievable as turnaround times are significantly reduced.
Prices will vary between solutions, but no matter which data entry automation solution you choose, you will save money in the long run.
Cost savings can be measured in the number of human hours saved. Instead of paying an employee for hours of data entry, the software will do it in a fraction of the time, reducing costs and freeing up time for your employees to concentrate on higher-level tasks and the nurturing of client relationships.
Errors are bound to happen and rectifying them can be costly later, while negatively affecting client confidence and satisfaction.
Data entry automated solutions can identify relevant data in scanned and digital documents using optical character recognition. In clearly formatted documents, it’s an even more reliable and accurate method, virtually eliminating the risk of errors when compared to a human worker inputting the data.
With a fully automated system in place, recording payments and expenses can be done automatically, at any time and place, no matter whether you’re working from your laptop in a coffee shop or at an event after office hours.
Instead of having to go through a box full of paper before year-end, receipts can be captured on the go.
For example, after taking a taxi trip to a client meeting, you could grab a screenshot of the receipt and upload it to the platform where it will be automatically entered into the relevant ledger.
Few accountants favour repetitive tasks such as data entry and bank reconciliation, but these are a necessary part of the service. However, by eliminating the need for manual data entry with an automation system, you can free up time for employees to focus on more challenging assignments.
Employees freed from the monotony of data entry will be able to spend time developing their skills, using their expertise to find solutions and build client relationships. They’ll be happier and it may improve employee retention rates too.
Twomey also points out the benefits of employing technology in your practice in the area of employee recruitment and retention.
He says: “Practices that are leaders in the areas of technology can offer their staff greater learning opportunities and variety of work, making them more enticing to both new recruits, as well lowering existing staff turnover levels.”
Keep ahead of your competitors by moving with the industry. More and more practices are adopting automation and digital solutions to improve efficiency and productivity, save on costs and time, and ultimately provide a better service to their clients.
Failing to keep up with the industry puts you at a disadvantage when your employees are still spending time on tasks that can be easily automated.
Room to grow
With fewer hours spent on repetitive tasks, you and your employees can invest in upskilling and put in more client hours. You might also consider expanding your services and products to clients.
With the increase in efficiency across your company, you might be able to take on larger projects and scale up the business.
Six steps to help your practice reduce manual data entry
It may be daunting to introduce new technology and change workflow processes but spend some time deciding on the best solution for your practice and implementing it should be a relatively smooth endeavour if you take it step by step.
Your accounting software may already have an app for data entry automation or an add-on that easily integrates within your existing system.
Here’s how to get started:
1. Choose a product
Most software platforms will offer a trial of their product to give you an idea of its functions. You could try it out to see how it works with your existing solution. Don’t forget to test out mobile apps as well.
If your team is small, you may consider getting them involved in the selection process. After all, they will be using the software too and could offer valuable insights into the best option for your company’s specific needs.
2. Create a structured plan
Put a plan together detailing how you will roll-out the automation software. Once that’s done, test out the new software on your own accounts first so you’re up to speed by the time you’re ready to implement it in the office.
Next, trial it with employees making sure everyone is familiar with the process before rolling it out to clients.
3. Implement the plan
Introducing the software to clients might involve hands-on training and in-house and remote support. You will need to ensure that your clients are comfortable using the software.
Time spent implementing the system will be worth it in the long run.
4. Avail of support provided
Whatever software package you choose, the provider will have online and offline customer service support to help you with setting up and can answer any queries on integrating the software into your current system.
5. Manage expectations
Successful implementation will depend on whether your software is properly integrated with your existing processes and business model.
Consider the time and cost investment for training employees. Reassure your team that their jobs won’t be adversely affected by the new technology.
Highlight the fact that it will actually make life easier and offer your employees the opportunity to take on more varied and challenging assignments.
Twomey says accountants shouldn’t underestimate the amount of work involved in automating your practice.
He says: “Treat it as a project. Think about the implementation of the new technology in relation to its impact on all of your stakeholders, with your employees and clients being two key groups to focus on.”
Communication is key to success. Twomey adds: “Bring everyone on the road with you. For example, from the outset, show your employees the benefits that adopting new technology offers them and address any concerns that they may have.”
6. Be prepared
Some clients may be resistant at first to adopting new technology. Consult with them in the initial stages of implementation and check in with them to offer support and advice ahead of the roll-out.
Be prepared for some bumps in the road. Any new system may have some teething issues while employees and clients get used to the new processes. But as soon as everyone has the hang of the new technology, they will wonder how they ever did without it.
Conclusion on automating data entry
Technology can bring data entry in accountancy into the 21st century with automated solutions to save you time, reduce costs and eliminate errors. Freeing up time and resources to allow you to focus on higher-paying client projects and allow you to offer more specialist advice and support to your clients.
Automating data entry will allow for room for expansion and the potential for your practice to offer additional specialist services and take on more clients.
Twomey warns that you shouldn’t expect to see instant benefits. Success will depend on the time invested to manage such matters as internal employee training and supporting clients to adopt your new technology and processes. “It’s a big investment,” he says. “Stick with it and you will see the benefits.”
The Practice of Now
We surveyed 3,000 accountants to reveal how the industry's landscape is changing. Discover how they're preparing for the future and learn how to keep your practice successful.