'No-code Accounting', a somewhat oxymoronic term bouncing around the bookkeeping/accounting world that even Luca Pacioli could not have envisioned.
I have always loved looking at new technologies and how they impact the way we live. Perhaps it was watching my Dad tinkering on IBM - compatible computers with a whole 5Mb of memory in the late 1980's. I recall some of them having a voice synthesiser where I could type in words and it repeated them out loud in a funny, jolty, robotic voice with an odd american accent.
Typing in rude words with friends, out of earshot of my parents, was endlessly entertaining.
In the 90's I read 'Clicking' by Faith Popcorn on the '16 Trends to Future Fit your life, your work and your business' over and over again fascinated and excited at this new world she described. In truth, she wasn't too far off the trends (cocooning, consumer vigilantes, down-ageing), she just couldn't have know the full impact of a little thing called the internet that was just beginning. (It's still in press if you're interested in reading it, click here)
Since then many brands, businesses and whole sectors have faltered and failed because they didn't respond to emerging technologies in their space. Sometimes watching from the outside, it's obvious - we could all see the potential impact on Kodak of digital technology. Everyone, outside of the Australian car manufacturing industry, could see the writing on the wall. Sometimes it's a shock to us as much as the sector it impacts on -' no way will people put photos on the internet of their homes and allow strangers to come stay with them'. Ooooh yes they will.
So now there's a loud knock at the front door of the accounting & finance industry, and innumerable technologies, automations and non-human ways of working are waiting on our doorstep. Whilst the temptation might be to rip the 'Welcome' mat right from under their feet, the reality is, there is no turning back. And, even for me as innovation-lover, there is an element of unease that comes with disruption and change. Will we lose our job? Our business? Our clients? Our sector?
Lets look at what we know , right now, for sure?
Businesses will be less and less willing to pay a bookkeeper $65/hr to manually transpose an invoice into an accounting programme when there are software solutions that can do that just as accurately and, maintain a scanned copy of the original source document at no, or minimal, cost. However, these apps, at this point, still need setting up and managing (particularly in the infancy of its use) by humans.
Business owners, with assistance from machine learning and AI, are likely be able to have their books reconciled very accurately without us.
Does that mean business owners will suddenly know how to set up a file and do all that we currently do behind the scenes to make it happen? I know it wont mean that they can understand their financial information any more than they currently do? Will they now know why their profit doesn't equal their bank balance, or what their performance ratios mean? Will they know how to check the accuracy of their data? Most will never even conceive the two-sides Lucia spoke of, and largely they may not need to, but we all know the benefits of thinking through tricky things by drawing up a t-account. Bottom-line financial literacy and interpretation is a skill built up over time with experience
Consider also, that those investing in these innovations, aren't saying that EVERY transaction can be coded automatically in the near future. Click here to watch Xero founder Rod Drury's keynote at Xerocon.
Even if 9/10 transactions will be automated in the future, this means, as Andrew Erkins of award winning Digit Book says, one in ten transactions will still need the assistance of a bookkeeper. Now there's positive embracing of change in action right there! (Click here to visit their site).
Small businesses have more access than ever to open API integrations and software solution tailored to their business.
Does this mean they know how to set them up correctly? Anyone, that's seen an ill-constructed mapping of an integration, three months down the track, knows the answer to that. Will the business owner know what integrations are best for them? Will they understand the information the data gives them? Will they have the time, let alone the inclination and expertise to research the plethora of eco-system partners?
Lets not forget in all this, what else humans can offer that automations and innovations can't. 'Human-ness' - all those attributes that we hone and refine in this field through years of service; empathy, caring, kindness, emotional intelligence, insight, humour etc. Knowing our clients, and what they likely will or wont be open to, or what they actually need versus what they think will work. Thanks to technology, we are now connected to a large collaborative community that taps into trends and innovations way before most business owners know of them, and are willing to generously, share IP and knowledge openly. My experience has certainly been that the bookkeeping sector, step up and learn new technologies as they arise - this in itself is a strength.
And, from another angle, does technology always end in tears for humans? According to an article in The Guardian (click here for full article) which looked at 140 years of data, technology has always created more jobs than it has destroyed. One of the key findings is that hard and dull jobs have declined (farewell inputting 178 invoices for a client on the last Monday of each month. I never loved you any way), but more pertinent, that in professional services, technology has raised productivity AND simultaneously employment levels.
At the moment, we have time on our side and a degree of ambiguity as to how it might all play out. I clearly recall doing a project in primary school about how humans would fill in all their leisure time because the thinking back then was that robots would do all the work and everyone would be only semi- employed. Clearly, the reality is we've never worked longer hours in our recent history. Nor are we zipping around the sky in hover- crafts as 'Towards 2000' thought we would be by now.
So lets not panic. Use this time to truly think about the implications of this new world and particularly how you can use it to your advantage by choosing what skills and talents you can leverage it with? Contemplate what parts you love about your work, and the impact technology might have on that. What can you do now to start to prepare? Is it moving more into the training space? Developing a business model around a more consultative practice, or finding an industry, such as building and construction to become the go-to for all integrations and system add-ons? You could start fostering relationships with software solution partners so that you become the conduit to your clients across many industries for your local area. Perhaps choosing on a niche from a function you perform now, such as payroll and becoming the go-to expert. I'll hazard a guess there will even still be some demand (though diminishing) for work performed the 'traditional' way because that's the way some clients want it to be. Make it clear you're that person, if thats where you want to stay positioned.
But most importantly is being open to embracing change. Don't be the last Kodak shop open, slaving away clinging desperately to the old way.
Be curious. Be imaginative. Be resourceful. Be nimble. Be prepared. But don't be scared - years of experience, wisdom, insights and knowledge can not be stolen from you by answering the knock at the door when it comes.