Editor’s note: To mark the end of 2018, we wanted to get your thoughts on the year that was. So we’ve asked some of the most influential voices in accounting, bookkeeping and technology to share their view of the past 12 months. Today, we hear from bookkeeper Stacey Price, the founder of Healthy Business Finances.
This article reflects the author’s views, which should not be taken as the opinions of Xero nor as taxation, financial, investment or legal advice. Xero recommends that readers always obtain specific and detailed professional advice about any business decisions.
By Stacey Price
We’ve been hearing about the promise of artificial intelligence (AI) for some time in our industry, and in 2018 it became more of a reality. It seems accounting software is advancing every month, and while many finance professionals are reluctant to change (myself included), the enhancements generally create a better and more intelligent user experience.
For example, Xero is remembering and pre-filling transactions more easily than ever, and integrations with Hubdoc mean bills can be snapped and entered in seconds, eliminating paper headaches.
Some bookkeepers approach these advances in AI with anxiety: Will we lose our jobs? Will our industry become obsolete?
For what it’s worth, I don’t believe software can create relationships; people can. Nor can robots build trust; people can. And robots are poor at thinking outside the box. They’re programmed to do a job or a task, and sometimes they can do it more efficiently than humans. But this isn’t the first time in history that technology has developed rapidly. Bookkeepers need to do what every profession has: adapt.
In fact, AI should generate optimism rather than fear. How much time will we get back in our business day because of automation? What opportunities will we have to provide new services to existing clients? Do we have a chance to increase the services we’re offering? These are all benefits and should create excitement each time we speak to a client.
Instead of focusing on the negative – what technology can do better than humans — it’s time to examine what we can do better than AI. In my business, our 2018 focus was on financial coaching and training. It was time we became experts in on our favourite add-on software and ensure clients knew that we were authorities in those areas.
We completed many full implementations: Xero and Vend POS system, Xero and Receipt Bank, Xero and Hubdoc, Xero and ServiceM8. Being a Xero expert is, in my mind, no longer sufficient to distinguish yourself in the industry. There are many talented Xero bookkeepers, and we wanted to stand out. And we were able to, by providing a full-stack service to clients.
In 2018, we saw the trend of entrepreneurs wanting to use software tools themselves rather than hiring bookkeepers to do it for them. So instead of flogging bookkeeping services they didn’t want at the startup phase, we gave them what they did want: knowledge and experience. This came in the form of virtual Xero training sessions to clients Australia-wide; coaching services on ATO obligations; training in how to create cash flow forecasts and budgets, reviewing revenue streams and profitability, and price their products and services, as well as staffing requirements and marketing.
This advisory work now makes up almost 50% of our business income, and it’s what we’re known for. And it’s what I love. Interacting with clients and helping them interpret their numbers, understand their business performance and use Xero better – well, that gives me all the feel-good feels.
While we’re trying to keep one step ahead of the robots, we’re also embracing AI in our own business. We’ve just revamped our engagement letter and proposal templates in our online software to get those reviewed and signed (and boy, do they look schmick). We’re in the process of implementing a live chatbot on our website to engage visitors and convert them to clients more easily.
So for us, 2018 was the year AI became a motivating force. It was no longer something that would happen in the future, and it could no longer be ignored. It forced many bookkeepers to review their services and business model, and ensure they were providing value. And I couldn’t be more excited about this change in our industry.
Stacey is a chartered accountant, registered BAS agent and self-confessed numbers nerd. Inspired to make numbers fun and reduce the small-business failure rate, she created Healthy Business Finances. It helps business owners fully understand their financials, accounting software, ATO obligations and how to navigate the world of payroll and GST. With no head office and all staff working remotely, Healthy Business Finances offers virtual sessions Australia-wide and after-hours appointments for those who are time poor.