Do you remember a time before online and mobile banking? A time when you’d walk into a bank and the manager would greet you by name, ask about your family and what you needed help with? That relationship and personal experience made us loyal to the bank because we felt like someone genuinely cared about us.
Yet the commoditisation of technology has removed that human connection from business interactions – and, therefore, our loyalty to a brand. Technology has changed our behaviour to the point where the human connection has become a premium. Just look around a busy restaurant. There are probably more people looking at their devices than having conversations with those at their tables. And you’re probably not surprised.
Move with the times
Now is a good time for accountants to digitise their businesses. As their clients become increasingly digital in their personal lives, they expect the same from businesses. By using the tools available to them today – like artificial intelligence (AI) – accountants have an opportunity to leverage our craving for human connection and to start providing real value to their customers
Sage’s annual Practice of Now research, which surveyed 3,000 accountants globally, found that:
- 49% of respondents would like to automate number crunching, data entry, and email and diary management,
- 66% would invest in AI to automate repetitive and time-consuming tasks, and
- 55% plan to use AI to run their businesses better.
This suggests that accountants see the value of AI in automation, intelligence and client relationships.
Practice of Now
The 2019 research reveals evidence of a cultural shift within the industry as it prepares for the coming decade. Recruitment, skills and training, business practices, service offerings and technology are all evolving.
Accountants spend a lot of time doing manual, repetitive tasks, like capturing expense receipts and compiling reports. This leaves little time for them to truly understand their clients’ businesses and to advise them on financial strategy and revenue growth. By automating these mundane tasks with AI, accountants can provide more value to their clients.
Traditionally, accountants would look at data retrospectively to build historical reports with little value. Now, with AI’s ability to process millions of transactions a second, accountants can analyse data to find patterns and predict what a business’ cash flow will look like in three, six, twelve months. That’s valuable information to a business owner who wants to know if he/she can afford to hire more people.
When we hand over the heavy lifting to AI assistants, like Sage’s Pegg, we’ll have more time to do what we do best, which is building relationships with our clients, adding value and giving them strategic advice.
Our clients’ digital behaviour is changing, so we need to change, too. Our research found that 42% of clients expect their accountant to provide business advice. We can only have deeper interactions with our clients and help them run their businesses more efficiently if we reduce our administrative workload.
Back to basics
While there is a lot that technology and AI is good at, it will never replace the human connection, which is the foundation of the accounting profession.
We need to go back to the basics of nurturing relationships and trust and figure out how to use technology to enable those relationships and add more value. The more value we add, the more revenue we’ll make – that’s the basics of business.
Embracing AI is about augmenting humans’ capabilities with different skillsets. For now, AI can only perform narrow tasks – like processing receipts. As the technology matures, it will be able to multitask and become even more efficient. Throw in human empathy and intelligence and you have a powerful business combination.
If we’re going to get it right, we need to start diversifying our skillsets and upskilling our teams. University students should explore other areas, like arts, science and humanities, and focus on building their own digital skills so that they will be able to solve the problems of the future. It’s no longer enough to just know the basics of accounting. We need to be ready to advise clients and to support that advice with data.
The industry is going through a massive shift and accountants face the perfect opportunity to provide real value to their clients. And in an age of digitisation and technology commoditisation, nothing is more valuable than the human connection.
*Listen to Kriti discuss the important role that AI will play for accountants: #NextGenAccounting Podcast series.
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