Using the Cloud to Differentiate Your Firm

Jun 29th 2017
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Change was a common thread throughout this year’s inaugural AICPA Engage conference, and the primary focus of the day three keynote.

Discussing accounting in extraordinary times, AICPA President and CEO Barry Melancon said the advancement of technology and adoption in the industry would render it unrecognizable in 10 years time, citing an Accenture survey that predicts 40 percent of transactional accounting work will be automated by 2020. But as fellow keynote speaker and AICPA chair, Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, articulated, “technology needs someone at the helm.”

She asked attendees to consider their “competitive advantage” and what will position their continued thought leadership. Melancon agreed, stating that as accounting professionals, “we have the opportunity as a profession to reevaluate the services we provide.”

One of the services they turned their attention to was auditing, a vertical where cloud applications and machine learning are helping firms from the Big Four down to sole practitioners create more efficient and profitable engagements. Traditionally, auditors have been forced to contend with the more unglamourous sides of their jobs that aren’t spoken about when you are completing your accounting degree.

I remember, starting out as an auditor, the client visits where I had to crawl over trucks for VIN numbers or getting set up to work in the warehouse of an office because the last thing they wanted was the auditor to stay too long. Today, enterprise-level firms like Deloitte are using machine learning to review documents for key accounting information.

In some instances, natural-language processing software can sift through large volumes of auditable material, reducing human processing time from hundreds of thousands of hours to seconds. Not only is this more efficient, it turns the concept of the sample size entirely on its head.

While this grade of technology is not yet available to smaller firms, there is already cloud-based software available to help automate the audit process. Combining trial balance and work paper management, AuditFile provides the capacity for continuous audit. The user can import data directly from their cloud accounting platform or the bank to check for discrepancies, key data into AuditFile with the ability to drill into details in the accounting platform if needed, and more. Using AuditFile’s collaboration dashboard, the client can see audit progress including any bottlenecks – including employees who haven’t met submission deadlines – and prevent them.  

This is just one of the tools auditors can use already. Auditors can easily access the source material of PBCs when they create a stack of cloud apps. General ledger tools, like Xero with its Assurance Dashboard, can help clients and their advisors identify and address irregularities before a year-end audit. Tools like Hubdoc enable your clients’ important financial documents – including receipts, bills, and statements – to flow automatically into one place where you can view them as soon as they are uploaded. Expensify enables clients to capture their expenses using their phone camera, coding them automatically. The list goes on ...

This serves as an example of where firms can deploy technology in order to create more efficient processes. Rather than allowing your services to become commoditized, you can use technology to retool and differentiate your firm from your competitors.

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