It’s not the first time there’s been talk in the industry about the extinction of bookkeepers.

Back in the good old days (were the old days really that good?), bookkeepers used old fashioned paper ledgers to write up the books. This was the tried and trusted method for many, many years. So, imagine how those bookkeepers felt when computers came onto the scene? They probably felt they were going to lose out to spreadsheets and desktop software. Sound familiar? Maybe some did, but others adapted and continued to grow. In reality, the main thing that was lost was the handwriting practice.

But here we are again. Talk in the industry which is causing unrest in bookkeepers. Will they still have jobs in three, five, ten years time?

Whats so different now?

Artificial Intelligence: it’s all the rage at the moment. Everyone seems to be talking about how computers are taking our jobs. Its been around for years, but the use of artificial intelligence is now in steep growth and without doubt, cloud technology is a massive game-changer.

Software can now scan receipts, invoices and statements, extract data and publish it all to a cloud accounting package. Cloud accounting software is moving in the same direction too. Integrations with POS software packages, payment providers and more even takes away a bulk of the reconciliation work.

What are bookkeepers going to do now the machines are taking over the bulk of the grunt work?

Scanning receipts and invoices, entering the data to an accounting system, reconciliation sounds suspiciously like the job of a bookkeeper, right?
In a television advert for QuickBooks, Sanjeev Bhaskar happily tells us that the software provides a brilliant set of tools that does all the hard work for you. The problem with this is that it assumes that the hard work of bookkeeping is the mindless data entry and number crunching.

I’d argue that the real hard work is the years of training that go into being a first-class bookkeeper. The mindless data entry and number crunching might have taken up most of our time, but bookkeepers shine when it comes to keeping up with new legislation, empathetically advising our clients and providing a service tailored to the business that were working with.

Software may well be reducing the repetitive, time-consuming admin tasks that bookkeepers need to do. But it doesn’t replace the knowledge base that tells us whether, for example, we can actually claim the VAT on the receipt in question.

A case in point would be a client of ours, who decided to use data extraction software to do their own entry and used our services at quarter end to review complete the VAT Return. We saw that the software had picked up and reclaimed VAT on a purchase of alcoholic drinks at a client meeting. In a similar case, we saw that the software had picked up and reclaimed VAT on a receipt from Amsterdam. The software may well be able to read the receipt, but can it go back to the client and ask “Wait a minute, is this iPad you’ve purchased two weeks before Christmas a valid business expense?”, or can the software interpret HMRC guidance in the specific situations relating to the client, feed back to them and answer the phone to help with any of their questions, putting their mind at ease.

And despite this talk of the demise of bookkeeping and accounting professionals at the hands of the software companies, our practices continue to grow. The talk is about capacity and how to service more clients. With the introduction of MTD (Making Tax Digital), hundreds of thousands of small businesses are seeking out software savvy bookkeepers. If anything, the industry is booming.

Celebrate Change

We should be celebrating and embracing Artificial Intelligence and the time we’re likely to save. We can now truly position ourselves as accounting software experts and trusted advisers. And if you’re not doing that, you’re probably not a bookkeeper. You’re a dinosaur.
Bookkeeping is one of those industries that is always changing. HMRC update the rules on a regular basis and new software solutions pop up all the time – we need to keep up, and at ValueAdd – that’s exactly what we do!

That’s why I think many savvy bookkeepers will survive this so-called threat. They’re used to continual learning. They learn new things every day and with every new client we work with. And as one of the bookkeepers regularly asked if I’m worried about the industry changes my answer can be summed up by the infamous words of Gloria Gaynor “I will survive”.