Is automation really a threat to service businesses?

Despite the fears of technology taking jobs away from humans, one company chairman has suggested that automation will actually benefit SMEs by removing the “grunt work” to allow more time for direct customer service.

Executive chairman of First Class Accounts Clive Barrett said that while the automation of a profession like bookkeeping and accounting may seem self-sabotaging, the industry is actually embracing it for the future.

After automating much of its bookkeeping processes, Mr Barrett said First Class Accounts recorded 12 per cent growth in the last financial year.

“The future of small business management lies in automation,” he said.

“Our franchisees have embraced this new direction for bookkeeping and are encouraging clients to switch to automation as soon as they can.

“And their clients are rapidly reaping the benefits.”

Mr Barrett doesn’t think the automation of bookkeeping will leave bookkeepers out of a job; he believes it will benefit their work, allowing them to spend more time focusing on other aspects of their business.

“I see bookkeeping, as a profession, transitioning away from the traditional grunt work and focusing on more important aspects of the business like reporting and cash flow … financial strategy, identifying ways to rein in costs and improve profitability … things that can really make or break a business,” he said.

Mr Barrett added that he predicts bookkeepers will be “spending more time working on the business, and less time working in it”.

Speaking with My Business, Victoria Wilkinson of First Class Accounts Annerley in Brisbane echoed Mr Barrett’s view of the automation of bookkeeping.

“The more we embrace it, the more helpful we’re going to be for our clients, and the more efficient we’re going to be,” she said.

“It gives us a big opportunity to [help grow] our businesses, and help other small businesses as well.”

According to Ms Wilkinson, integrating automation into a small business gives business owners to have more freedom.

“They’re not sort of tied down to have their bookkeeper … coming to their premises at a certain time on a certain day, and tying up the computer while they do their work,” she explained.

“While it becomes a more remote relationship, it actually becomes better because [the customer is] freer to just call or email [with] any issues at various times.

“They get a bookkeeper all the time, instead of a set time period once a week or once a month.”

Ms Wilkinson also said that bookkeepers using automation can help company owners improve their businesses.

“The bookkeeper can now spend time with [owners] on analysing their business,” she said.

“The scope of work can [grow] as well.

“Instead of just data entry, [bookkeepers] can even help them with things like debt collection.”

As a bookkeeper herself, Ms Wilkinson also uses automation in her business.

“I employ software that I encourage my clients to use,” she said.

“One particular software enables me to take a photo of my business receipts and invoices.”

That photo goes to a cloud, Ms Wilkinson said, and is incorporated into her business software.

“It cuts down on the data entry time and also it cuts down on the filing time, because documents are stored electronically now,” she said.

Despite the fear of technology taking over old jobs, having a program helping out doesn’t mean human bookkeepers are useless.

“I don’t think automation will ever replace bookkeepers entirely,” Ms Wilkinson said.

“The definition of a bookkeeper may change, but as for the jobs we do, even with automation, a lot can still go wrong. [Clients] still need a professional person that can guide them to check over what’s happening.”

Regardless of what happens, Ms Wilkinson is excited for how automation will impact bookkeeping.

“The bookkeeping industry is definitely evolving and changing because of automation,” she said.

“I really enjoy the change that automation brings, and it just helps us to learn new challenges [and] new software, and become experts in different parts [of] our business.”

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