3 simple tips to help your practice reduce manual data entry
Who doesn’t want to work less, yet achieve the same number of things – if not more?
As an accountant, you need to reduce manual data entry. It’s a time sink that eats the resources of a practice.
We could discuss machine learning or artificial intelligence (AI) as a solution for this. But the reality is it’s all about reducing the drudgery – and manual data input, in particular.
Automation is key.
If the majority of your work is automated then you’ll be freed up to advise and offer more value to your clients.
The new wave of automation for accountants focuses on taking care of payments, bills, invoices, receipts, purchase orders and more. Somebody has to tell the system all about these, even if that’s just coding one line in a ledger against another.
The breakthrough in recent times is that the computer can do so.
3 tips to reduce manual data entry
1. Take snapshots on your phone
The mobile phones most of us carry daily are central to removing much of the drudgery and introducing automation.
Our phones double up as high-resolution digital cameras (even on the cheapest phone nowadays). It’s possible to use apps to take a snapshot of receipts as soon as they’re received, even while still in a shop.
The details are then extracted automatically by the app, such as the point of sale date and the amount. If you tie in the phone app with your main cloud accounting software then it will automatically send them across.
Congratulations, you’ve just done some accounting.
Arguably, we’re not quite at the stage yet where people should discard receipts. It’s wise to keep them for reference purposes should they be needed in the future.
While doing this within your own practice accounting is wise, encouraging your clients to use this kind of technology can be a game changer. Their profit and loss will be instantly up to date.
And you won’t have to worry about that handful of clients dumping a carrier bag of receipts on your desk during the busy tax return season.
With accounting practices spending endless hours on manual data entry during tax season, this will be a big time saver for you.
2. Auto-reconcile paperwork
You can take snapshots of statements, invoices, bills and more. There’s also the option to use a scanner such as that built into printers or photocopiers. If these have a document feeder mechanism, you can just place a pile of papers on top and then leave them to be scanned one by one.
All these document types can be understood by AI software within apps and cloud software to extract the relevant details.
Combined with the fact that invoices are often sent electronically nowadays – perhaps as PDFs via email – this provides the ability to automatically reconcile and code within the accounting software.
For example, open purchase orders can be automatically matched to invoices. Invoices can be matched to received payments within bank account ledgers.
A human will still want to check all this to make sure it’s all correct, at least initially. But the drudgery of taking a stack of papers and coding/matching everything against the accounts system can turn into the half-remembered nightmare it deserves to be.
An important point is raised here.
Automation technology like this augments the human, but it’ll be some years before the technology advances to the point where it can reconcile with true 100% accuracy.
However, those who use this technology report that it reduces weeks of manual data entry down to just a few days each month.
3. Take payments electronically
Invoices aren’t what they used to be.
Nowadays, the best accounting software lets you send an invoice electronically – and include a link within the file or email to pay the invoice there and then.
This just requires a little setup within your accounting software with a payments solution, such as Stripe or PayPal. Sure, there’s a payments surcharge for each transaction, but the benefits for your practice’s cash flow makes this seem insignificant.
Add in the fact that accounting software will even let you track when the invoice was viewed by the recipient, and the client really has no excuses left that can delay payment.
They can’t say they didn’t receive the invoice, or that they haven’t seen it. They can’t claim that it wasn’t obvious how they should pay.
Some payment solutions even incorporate the Apple Pay and Google Pay systems, so the individual can pay instantly on their mobile or smartwatch, without even having to reach into their wallet or purse for a credit or debit card.
And, of course, because there’s no paperwork involved, there’s no need to enter any data manually once the payment has been received.
Everything just syncs up, freeing you to do work more befitting your experience and skills.
Tie it in with your practice management solution and the invoice can even be issued automatically once the work is completed. No human is required anywhere in the payment collection process.
Other benefits of automation
As mentioned, automation is the primary way to reduce automation – and it’s becoming increasingly sophisticated with the benefit of machine learning and other types of AI.
Automation also creates well-structured data, which is of high quality. This creates the ability for your firm to do more. Well-structured data can cleanly flow between systems, meaning automation can be explored and adapted to the very end of a process, not just in part.
Other benefits of automation hinge around data security and the client experience.
The benefits of automation on security are wide-ranging and resonate strongly to your duty of care to client confidentiality and obligations under GDPR.
Automation provides reassurances around the quality of your procedures, ensuring an additional level of client-side protection against fraud or data breaches.
Clients might not need to see automation in action, but they will be interested in the results. Automation, from a client’s perspective, is about you providing them with the best tools and means of getting the job done.
The easier it is for you to supply them with the information they need, and take more of the hassle away from them and their teams, the better they will view your services.
Get started with accounting automation
There’s a good chance your cloud accounting software will already have an automation element. You simply have to build it into your practice workflow.
Here are some tips for ensuring your practice takes a technology-first approach that means you never miss out on new features – and can benefit from the competitive edge they bring.
1. Stay on top of technology
Ensure you keep on top of the emails and reports from your chartered body that discuss new technologies. Read reviews of apps and software. Make sure you read the release notes when there’s an update for your accounting software.
Remember that accounting and technology are tied together – and by staying on top of tech and ensuring your team does too, you’ll be able to offer more value to your clients.
2. Be open to adapting workflows
Small feature updates in software can lead to big changes for the way your practice functions – and big efficiency savings.
Perhaps the most difficult challenge can be to keep yourself and your workforce flexible enough to be able to build these new features into how you and they work on a daily basis.
If you or your staff have been doing things a certain way for years, can you really drop that methodology and do things differently? How can you overcome this resistance and inertia? Taking small steps can help you go a long way.
3. Always consider training
Software is designed to be intuitive but you should never assume your staff know how to use the features it offers. When a new feature arrives, such as a new automation tool, you should ensure that your staff are trained on what it offers, how to use it, and how it can benefit their workflow.
This can be official, via the software vendor or a training company, or you can learn about it yourself and conduct informal training sessions.
But considering staff awareness and training should always be topmost of your mind. If nobody knows how to use something, or they’re afraid to use it through ignorance, then that new software feature might as well not exist.
Conclusion on reducing manual data entry
The times are again a-changing for accounting. To ignore the benefits is to lose a significant competitive advantage, as well as the potential to save time and money.
Automating manual processes and repetitive tasks can give you the time you need to deliver amazing experiences for your clients and team. You can grow your practice with the peace of mind that the capture, processing and retention of paperwork are automatically taken care of.
What have you got to lose?
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Automate your practice
Automating data entry is not just about the technology. It's about the outcomes it delivers for you, your firm, and your clients.
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