Why accountants shouldn’t fear the bots

By Ed Kless, Senior Director, Sage Accountants

Accountants are worried that bots will take their jobs, and rightfully so. ‘Robots’, or artificial intelligence, can do many accounting functions faster and more accurately than humans could ever hope to. This is not a bad thing. Handing over the mundane, repetitive tasks to automation will free up accountants’ time to focus on becoming advisors who add real value to their clients’ businesses.

Yet, they’re still resisting. Not in the sense of the ‘saboteurs’ of 1800 France, who destroyed weaving machines with wooden shoes – or sabots – because they were worried that the machines would replace them. Rather, they’re resisting by refusing to evolve from the way accounting has always been done, which is to sell their hours, rather than their value.

Sage’s annual Practice of Now research found that 49% of accountants across the world are happy to automate things like diary management, number crunching, and data entry. But what about the other 51% who still bill clients by the hour to balance books and process receipts?

Efficient vs effective

Everyone is trying to get more done in less time, and accountants are no exception. Yet, if they’re not going to embrace automation to help them to do this, accountants have only one other option: reduce their rates and join the race to the bottom. It’s not fun down there. They’ll have to work a lot harder and employ more people just to meet their own targets.

In the end, they might be efficient but they’re not effective in becoming the trusted financial and business advisor that 42% of customers are looking for.

Successful accountants are those who create value not only for their clients but for themselves as well. They realise that their time is valuable and that it’s no longer feasible to sell one hour of their time, to one client at a time. If they’re the cheapest in the business, they’ll never generate wealth for themselves this way.

Respect your own time

As soon as accountants stop fearing automation and allow the bots to take on the grunt work, they’ll have more time on their hands to turn their focus inward – to learn new skills and to brush up on their industry knowledge, so that they can help their clients prepare for an uncertain future.

That’s where their value lies. Not in their hours, but in what they know and how their intelligence can move the needle for their clients. As they build their expertise, accountants start creating a non-rival asset: value, which can be repackaged and sold multiple time in the same hour. Focus shifts from selling time, which is finite, to selling value, which is priceless.

Redefining value

The client-accountant relationship is changing, requiring deeper conversations about how clients define value, and how accountants can help create it. To do this, we need to free up time.

Artificial intelligence and automation can change how accountants do things, so that they can do new things. That’s where their value lies. Not in their hours.

*Listen to Ed Kless discuss the accounting practice of the future in the #NextGenAccounting Podcast series.