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How Automation Reduces the Burden on Bookkeepers


There are a variety of reasons why accountants and bookkeepers continue to struggle with automating tasks in their firm and with client work. Be it staff or client buy-in, hesitancy to change from familiar yet slower, manual processes, fear of job replacement or a general lack of understanding and confidence about what makes the most sense to automate, firms need pointed advice on taking the rights steps towards automation.

Jun 29th 2021
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Even in 2021, many accountants and bookkeepers continue to struggle with automating client work and internal processes.  For some there just needs to be more education about available products, for others it’s giving them the confidence in the technology choices they make to get staff and client buy-in.

AccountingWEB shared some reader questions with Paul Lodder, Product Domain Expert at Dext who also ran his own accounting practice for over 20 years. He offered them some pointed advice about how firms can embrace automation and how technology can effectively reduce the burden on bookkeepers while driving value for their clients.

Q: In a meeting with my team I brought up the idea of automating the bookkeeping function in our firm (staff of 5), but there was some concern about how it would affect some jobs. What can I say to allay their fears?

Paul: What is absolutely key when you’re having these discussions with your team is they understand the reason why you’re suggesting the change. They understand where the value is in this change and that, actually, is not a threat and there are huge benefits for implementing this change.

When you have initial buy-in and they realize they’re not actually going to be out of the job and the actual case is it’s going to create more opportunities for them, it’s going to create more capacity for them, that in turn potentially means they can go into areas that they hadn’t had the opportunity to go into in the past. They may be interested in getting more involved in the management information side, but they had been spending so much time on the actual bookkeeping and haven’t had the time to get involved in other areas.

Also, what’s become more important is that as accounting firms move to more agile working situations, adopting new technology means that you will be able to offer your team more flexibility. It’s all about positioning.

There will always be that pushback at the start and that sharp response of “no, I’m not doing this,” but having open conversations with the whole team is important so that they can address what their concerns are. You’ve got the opportunity to talk them through it as well.

Q: I’m hearing so much about automating this and that in my practice, but my clients just don’t seem receptive to the idea of changing the way we do things. How can I get them on board and to see the value?

Paul: First of all, take a step back and be sure if you definitely have team buy-in and they understand the value of the automation, so that when they are talking to clients they can clearly communicate that. But then, having conversations with clients to understand what their specific pain points may be, what some of their concerns are and any outlying issues.

Once you’ve identified one or two pain points, that’s when you can really move the conversation to the next level. When I was in practice, I had some nice examples of clients who were always struggling to finish their workload, to finish processing all of the transactions and then needed to leave work to go and pick up the children from school.

Once I explained to them how using technology and bringing in automation that streamlining the processes is actually creating some time that they don’t necessarily need to spend at work. They can, instead use that time for other things they need to do. Once you establish trust [with clients] and get that buy-in, then you can drill down into how automation can really help in their business and start breaking down the core processes.

What can often happen is that you try and do everything at once, it’s a journey and not getting to the finish line as soon as possible. Have a methodical approach. Identify where the easy wins are for your client and help them on that implementation. That may just be expenses, and that’s all you deal with but it’s one of their biggest pain points.

After that, you can move on to the next area where you can get the most value from. The more communication you have with your clients, the better and that’s where you will get the result that you’re after.

Q: We’re almost entirely manual as a firm, though we use some software to manage documents, and we’re looking for us to be more efficient. But there’s just so much technology out there, where do we start?

Paul gives his answer in the video below

Q: I’ve become more aware that our firm is falling behind when it comes to customer service, a lot of our client onboarding and processes are still paper-based. I’m looking for some practical advice on what important first steps we can take here.

Paul: As you know, customer/client relationships are so important for accountants and bookkeepers and you don’t want the relationship to be impacted because of work not being done or incorrectly done. This is where automation can really help client relationships and really mean that any issues that are coming through can be dealt with very quickly.

Ultimately, a lot of the time, it comes down to if you’ve got the time to speak to your client. They can get upset when they can’t get a hold of you and over the last 18 months there’s been increased demand on accountants and bookkeepers, even just as a sounding board.

So, by using technology and the automation that comes from that it does start to create time. That time you can now spend speaking to more of your clients, having more regular contact with them at least every month. That conversation may just be five minutes, just a quick check in, but it can go a long way.

What I also found [in my practice] when I started using technology, as a partner-in-charge I needed the visibility of what was happening in terms of the work-in-process, the workflows and where we were in terms of the service we were offering . Without the visibility it’s very difficult to know, especially when everyone is working at home or out of the office, if the firm is up to date on everything or behind on what we promised to deliver.

By using the technology, together with all the dashboards and the visibility, it means you’ve always got your finger on the pulse and you can identify a potential issue before it actually becomes an issue. Automating tasks not only saves a lot of time, which allows for more regular communication to happen, but it gives you visibility on the numbers as well. That can initiate a call, even if there’s not a big problem you can solve, they’ll appreciate that call, so technology without any doubt can help with that customer service and relationship.

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