The Rise of the Digital Accountant

In October we attended Xerocon London which is Xero’s annual conference in London.

By rights this should be one of the dullest experiences known to man – a conference on a piece of software that does bookkeeping.  It hardly sets the pulse racing.  But it turns out that Xero and it’s ilk are right in the crucible creating the future of technology and work.

In particular Xero is at the cutting edge of machine learning and what that will mean for white collar workers.

Xero is already a semi-automated bookkeeping system because can teach it how you want transactions recorded but the next step will be to get the system to teach itself.  If DeepMind’s Artificial Intelligence took only three days to master the game of Go and beat the world masters how long would it take to master bookkeeping?

Xero is already testing automated bookkeeping, the Ok button on the reconciliation page may eventually disappear.

So much for the bookkeeper, but what about the accountant?  Here too the landscape is changing.  Whilst HMRC’s Making Tax Digital delayed, no-one who really questions whether it will become a reality.  When it does the bookkeeping software will be connected directly to HMRC and potentially the information for the tax return could be taken directly from there without human intervention.

There is a lot of speculation about how far machine learning and integration can take us.  Could accountants become redundant for submitting tax returns and accounts?  Will business owners rely on a version of Amazon Echo or Google Home to get questions answered?  Might machines even give business advice?

There is also a lot of speculation on how long it will take.   Our feeling is that people underestimate the amount of engineering there is to get the whole thing to work.

Perhaps as accountants we should be nervous we are talking about a technology that could wipe out our business.  For some reason we don’t think it will quite work like that.  But if it does so be it.  As our accountants we have a choice to resist this change and cling onto ways of working that are increasingly inefficient or to embrace the change and find ways to add value to our customers.  At Crunchers we are committed to the latter.