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Technology Trends in Accounting 2021 Research Report
Discover the progress accountancy firms have made in their business and client service transformation, and what impact the pandemic has had on their use of technology.

When Accounting Becomes Human

Pieterjan Behaeghe
Written by: Pieterjan Behaeghe

In case the title of this post rings a bell… it’s intentional. Recently I was lucky enough to hear Steven Van Belleghem talk about ‘When Digital Becomes Human’. Steven is an expert in customer centricity in the digital world, and I found his talk very inspirational, and highly applicable to accounting and accountants.

Accountants are the customers for whom all of us at Silverfin get out of bed in the morning. Every day we work on making our connected accounting platform better. In SaaS, ‘better’ always means ‘better for the customer’. So, after getting out of bed for our customers, I also eat my portion of customer centricity for breakfast :-)

It was exciting to hear Van Belleghem talk about so many things that we’ve already built into Silverfin, or that are on our roadmap for the near future.

In general, when I hear people talk about how ‘digital’ has become a superfluous word, I can’t help but thinking that this might be the case for many professions, but in accounting binders and paperwork are often still very much part of a day’s work.

Even when scanning and accounting software is used, which takes away the pain of dragging paper invoices around, the actual accounting work, where accounts are reconciled and where costs and benefits are explained, is often still a manual and somewhat analog process. Of course, computers are used, and Excel and Word are a huge step up from suspension files, but a lot of the work that accountants do has to be done over and over again at the time of year closing.

With Silverfin we’re at the forefront in helping accountants make the transition to digital when it comes to improving the workflow and reporting within accounting firms.

Digital transformation means much more than moving from paper invoices to scanned images. For Silverfin, digital means connected, where many aspects of the value chain become connected in a way that adds value.

Back to Steven Van Belleghem, here are a few quotes and how I found them to relate to my daily work as Product Manager at Silverfin.

"Machine learning has found its place in society"

While the exact definition of machine learning is food for thought, this quote did make me think of Silverbot. That’s the Silverfin robot who is currently being trained to notice unexpected behaviour in the books. When Silverbot spots something out of the ordinary, like as a large sum being booked on an account for Small Computer Purchases, it will ask if perhaps that cost shouldn’t go on Investments. (Disclaimer: we don’t actually have a physical Silverbot running around the office :-), it’s more like Slackbot or the Facebook bot, a small tool working in the background).

“Wouldn’t it be great if my accountant sent me a direct message to let me know there was a problem with my numbers”

With Silverfin, accountants add a layer of automation and uniformisation on top of the data that comes from accounting software. What comes in through accounting software is simply booked data, there hasn’t been any reconciliation. It’s the process of reconciliation that Silverfin streamlines, making it already possible today for accountants who work with Silverfin to send reports outside of the ‘set accounting calendar’ range. In other words, business owners don’t need to wait until the end of a book year or fiscal period to get insight in their real numbers. Where accounting software stops at the level of ‘invoice booked’, Silverfin goes much further after that, and allows accountants to check the bookings, audit the data and always have up-to-date and correct financial info to share with their clients.

“It’s not about Digital First, it’s about Digital Now”

There’s no need to wait for a new generation of accountants, the change need to take place in the accounting firms of today.

Accounting has been around for thousand of years. The profession has seen the clay tablet come and go, accountants transitioned from the abacus to the calculator at some point. Surely, a profession with such a great history and such a valid reason for existence, is bound to adapt to the digital world we’re living in now.

“Convenience is the new loyalty. Aim for extreme simplicity.”

Compliancy and working within the existing set of rules and regulations is standard practice for all accountants. You’re not going to win customers by being compliant. On the other hand, firms that offer convenient ways for their customers to see their numbers and to communicate with their accountant, differentiate themselves from the pack and will win the loyalty of their clients.

“Contextual understanding is key. Content + context = value”

Accountants need to discover value adding ways to work with data. Technology offers them a lot more information and data, but the question is what they do with that data. As soon as ‘having data’ gets translated into ‘offering extra service to my client based on data', you get a winning combination. Van Belleghem also says: “One size fits nobody”, and it’s true that accountants can’t offer a general service towards all of their clients, everybody has different needs and deserves a different approach. That’s why Silverfin offers a white label and generic framework, with ample room to customize content and features.

“The rise of technology is increasing customer expectations.”

As more and more processes get automated, people increasingly value the experience of human contact and interaction. Whereas one used to have to go to the bank for even the most basic transactions, we nowadays go there when we need expert advice. The same goes for accounting. The role of the accountant should be to be good at those things where technology fails:

  • Empathy
  • Passion
  • Creativity

Technology is great, but humans smile… it’s precisely the human part of business where the magic happens.

My conclusion? Future-proof accountants let technology work on the operational tasks, and focus their personal efforts on human, creative and value-adding work. Accountants are digital, now it's time for accountancy to become human. (#ConnectedAccounting)