It’s the argument I’ve been hearing my whole life. Will machines replace people? And now with the proliferation of cloud accounting software, our industry is asking, “What is happening to the role of the bookkeeper? Will cloud accounting automation make bookkeepers obsolete?”
Yes, it will. Or rather, it will force bookkeepers to evolve or risk extinction.
The traditional bookkeeper role went something like this: client gives you a stack of receipts and paper bank statements at some point after the close of the month and/or after you hounded them mercilessly for the documentation that was needed. At best, this would be about two weeks after the close of the period.
Then the information all had to be keyed into the accounting software. Depending on the volume of activity and the bookkeeper’s schedule, this could take another couple of weeks, so by the time the information was returned to the business owner, the financial information was, at best, already a month out of date.
Now that people are used to real-time information anytime and anywhere, business owners’ expectations have changed, and if bookkeepers don’t adapt their methods and tools, they will soon find themselves with a dwindling client list.
In today’s world, information is provided real-time through automatic bank feeds and simply by logging into a various financial websites (or better yet, but signing up at Hubdoc and having all the PDF information pulled for you). It’s not unrealistic to have the information necessary to keep most accounts reconciled every single day and have the books closed within a day or two after the close of the month.
However, the improvements everyone sees in efficiency and being able to provide real-time information is just the beginning. I would argue that the role is changing even more than that. Traditional bookkeepers as we’ve known them are going away entirely.
It used to be that a good bookkeeper had solid accounting knowledge combined with quick data entry skills, and the best were also very knowledgeable about accounting software as well.
Today’s cloud bookkeepers must be knowledgeable not only about accounting software but also about a ton of other add-on tools that could connect with that accounting software to improve productivity, eliminate data entry, and provide good results for the clients. They need to know how to evaluate them, use them, and train their clients on them. They need to provide more customer support for their clients and be able to oversee the process of data flow. They need such a strong fundamental understanding of both accounting and technology that when exceptions do pop up (as they invariably do), they need to know how to deal with them and fix the system going forward.
And then, when all the information is into the system and clean and reconciled, the accountant needs to be able to interpret the information for the client. Long gone are the days when the business owner would receive a set of financial statements (that they didn’t know how to read) as proof of a job well done. More and more they expect to understand what their numbers are telling them about their business. And if you can’t do that, someone else will.
So if you’re a bookkeeper who want to remain relevant as the cloud accounting world expands, what are some things you can do to stay on top of your game?
- Make sure you have a solid understanding of accounting. Know your debits from your credits. It’s not enough to just know QuickBooks. You actually need to understand how income differs from liabilities so that if something gets imported or coded incorrectly, you’ll recognize it and be able to fix it.
- Develop a solid understanding of how businesses fundamentally work. Learn what accounts payable and accounts receivable actually are and in what ways they are important to the client. (Hint: cash is king.) Know what purchase orders are and why companies issue them. Learn about different entity types and why one is more appropriate for a particular client than another. Learn the difference between cash and accrual bookkeeping.
- Develop a solid understanding of how your clients’ businesses fundamentally work. Follow how documents move within the company from the beginning to the end of their accounting process. This, more than anything, will help tell you what needs to be optimized and what can and needs to be automated.
- Evaluate the available cloud accounting tools. Start by finding a solid general ledger (we use Xero). Then work on solving one problem at a time by researching add ons and developing your arsenal of tools… accounts payable (we use Bill.com), payroll (we use ZenPayroll), and so on. Make sure they integrate well with your general ledger! Talk to peers to find out what they’re using and what they like and dislike about them. Set up demos of products that you think might be a good fit for your clients, ask lots of questions, and take any and all training on the products until you are a rock star.
- Pick your niche and stick to it. If you focus on a niche, you can use five to ten core best of breed products for all of your clients so you can better standardize your process and don’t have to become an expert on 30 different add-ons.
- Get involved in the accounting technology community. I know I’m preaching to the choir here a little bit, but I’ve not found a better source of more well-connected, informed people regarding accounting technology than this network of people. This is a valuable resource and a great place to start.