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How Accounting Firms Can Stay Competitive in an Automated World

By Alexander Hagerup, Co-founder & CEO,

“Neither Redbox nor Netflix are even on our radar screen in terms of competition,” said Blockbuster CEO Jim Keyes in 2008. Blockbuster eventually moved into digital streaming video, but it was too little, too late.

Two years later, the company was defunct. Netflix and Redbox had eaten it alive.

Your public accounting firm likely strives to be one of the best places to work in the region. It constantly tries to raise the bar, allowing you and your colleagues to provide exceptional service to your clients.

In that pursuit, your firm must assemble a highly qualified and motivated team. In addition, your firm needs to stand out in a field of largely indistinguishable competitors.

The war to remain competitive in public accounting is rapidly shifting to a new battleground: technology. Your firm’s ability to recruit top talent and win the best clients going forward will depend on how well it adapts to AI and machine learning.

The shift is happening much faster and on a much greater scale than many realize. AI and machine learning will have an even bigger impact than the introduction of personal computers and Lotus 1-2-3 did over 30 years ago. And as COVID-19 is forcing many accounting firms to automate their workflows, stepping up your client services game can only happen if you improve your productivity, efficiency, and remote accounting process.

However, like the CEO of Blockbuster, many leaders in the industry refuse to acknowledge or act upon the change. Just as quickly, they will become extinct.

How can your accounting firm remain relevant in an automated world?

Tech-Focused Accounting Firms

Particularly with COVID-19, the trend of employees working remotely and working from home has exploded. Many accounting firms will become almost entirely tech-based – or tech-based services will be created that look nothing like traditional accounting firms.

Those that arrive at that destination first will be able to sharply drive down the costs of delivering core services, with a much faster response time. Accounting firms that do not begin investing in accounting technology will struggle to attract new clients and retain existing ones.

Think of the thousands of mom-and-pop retailers and e-commerce websites driven out of business by Amazon’s lower prices and faster delivery. A similar extinction-level event is already happening in the accounting industry.

A Superior Work Environment

The next generation of workers has shifting priorities and expectations when looking for a job. The amount of job satisfaction, and how much they will be able to develop themselves in the workplace, is placed in high regard.

Newly educated accountants recognize that they must build their careers at companies that are at the forefront of technological innovation.

Since AI takes monotonous tasks off of workers’ schedules, they have time to perform work that helps them develop professionally.

Value-Added Service

The best accounting firms keep innovating new ways to help clients, continually raising the standard for all other firms. The industry as a whole is being forced to find a way to move away from reactive, repetitive tasks billed on an hourly basis and towards consulting.

Firms who face labor constraints, whether due to COVID-19 or otherwise, can leverage AI technology to reduce or eliminate workflow bottlenecks that keep them from adding value to their clients’ companies. AI scales much more gracefully than HR.

Provide Better Advice Powered by AI

Google uses AI to deliver perfectly relevant search results to you. Netflix uses AI to know exactly which movie to recommend to keep you binge-watching. Facebook’s AI knows which news stories to show – and in what order – to keep you scrolling endlessly through your news feed.

AI can do the same thing for accountants, coming up with relevant suggestions and courses of action for how clients should operate their businesses.

As AI increasingly understands what is going on from a financial perspective, the way accountants provide advice to clients will change. In the future, accountants will take a collection of AI suggestions, briefly pare it down to the best advice, then present that to clients.

Maintain Trusted Advisor Relationships

In the face of artificial intelligence performing accounting work, there will always remain a demand for trusted advisor relationships with clients. To continue to focus on advisor relationships, accounting firms need to set aside the time and staff to nurture those relationships.

Technology and AI allow accountants to focus on business and not on tasks, advise their clients, and provide a broader set of services. And with these new accounting superpowers, your clients’ businesses can run better, grow faster, and become more profitable.

To learn more about how AI can keep your accounting firm relevant, download our ebook “The Future of Accounting Technology: Preparing for Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning.”



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