Over the years, technology has reshaped business functions and accounting is no different. The impact of rapid advances in automation technology, Artificial Intelligence (AI), integrated platforms, cloud-based software, and an explosion of data are felt in the finance world.
Here are a few trends to watch out:
1. Acceleration of cloud-based accounting
Cloud-based accounting solutions have played a major role in the successful transition to pandemic-induced remote working. We have seen several years of digital transformation in just a few months. Beyond enabling anywhere and anytime access, cloud accounting allows:
- Systematization of remote collaboration, breaking the communication impasse between internal and external entities like accountants, CFOs and business owners.
- Augmented productivity levels due to elimination of data entry and automation of day-to-day tasks.
- Ability to glean cross-functional, real-time insights from multiple business sources and provide leading indicators into how a business is going to perform rather than having to pour over past historical information.
2. Technology-driven tax and reporting compliance
We will increasingly see adoption of GDPR model of compliance by design. The passage of GST and e-invoicing in India, VAT in the Middle East, and growing movement towards electronic invoicing in Europe and LATAM is a testimony to the fact that authorities across the globe are implementing technology-driven compliance with a threefold aim: reduce tax evasion, increase compliance, and retain flexibility to implement policy changes.
This means that internal business systems need to be future-oriented and not just address today’s compliance needs. This also has implications for other aspects of business and economy in general. For instance, the electronic authentication of invoices and tax returns done by revenue authorities can allow lenders to judge the potential of the borrower, which in turn could lead to a boom in lending easily.
3. Continuous accounting
In the past decade, we have seen two major technological changes—cloud and mobile. The cloud has ensured that the access to data is continuous, and mobile has allowed continuous transactions with the help of applications. Together, mobile and cloud have ensured that computing is continuous. Despite this advancement, accounting in many companies still works on a batch mode. Companies and accountants still set aside several days for period-close activities. However, today’s technology can help design financial processes that inheres within typical batch processing activities like financial close and continuous accounting, which ultimately results in operational efficiency.
4. AI will be well-entrenched in accounting
Today’s finance function is either uninitiated into AI or only uses limited AI. This is about to change. A pwc study says that a substantial number of financial decision-makers are investing in AI. AI has started playing a bigger role in accounts payable automation and spend management, primarily in the extraction of information from receipts and invoices, detecting fraud and duplicates, and automatic routing of invoices to the next stage of processing. This eliminates much of the data entry.
We can also see AI being increasingly used in AR functions like predicting the likelihood of a customer payment, and cash flow. Furthermore, AI will play a major role in the reconciliation process. All this will transfer a bulk of low-level tasks from the hands of accountants and other financial professionals to a computer, freeing them to contribute to more strategic initiatives.
5. Customer-driven finance and a new lexicon for accountants
Over the next few years, we will see the finance function step beyond its traditional focus areas of cost and compliance, and play a strategic role in the organization. This would mean that finance and accounting will have to be more customer-driven, designing all processes to keep the customer at the center.
This will require all back-office systems and finance to be deeply integrated with other business systems, arming every user, regardless of their role, with relevant information to serve the customer better. In addition to the traditional set of metrics, finance will need to adopt metrics that emphasize customer growth and experience.
6. Self-service finance-governed analytics
We will see the emergence of finance-governed analytics that brings operational, financial and transactional data together in a cohesive manner. With the aid of AI tools like natural language processing, CFOs, accountants and finance professionals can run queries on data spanning an entire organization, supporting operational and strategic decisions.
7. Emergence of the full-stack finance professional
With the evolution of no-code and low-code platforms, accountants and finance professionals cannot just suggest solutions, but also develop them using deep tech to help their organization, removing the over-dependence on IT. This, along with the emergence of self-service analytics, AI and other tools, have paved the way for a full-stack finance professional. A full-stack finance professional will be responsible for managing and minimizing risk and spending, adopting agile finance and maximizing effectiveness, supporting organization-wide decision-making, evangelizing financial shrewdness across the organization, apart from being tech-savvy.
8. Continued convergence of banking and accounting
Banking services have seen rapid development in the last decade. More businesses have started using online banking, and the dependence on brick-and-mortar branches has diminished considerably. Banking services are now being offered through mobile devices, and integrated banking technology is emerging. Accounting and banking are no longer separate entities.
Most modern accounting solutions offer bank integration, making account reconciliation simpler and faster. In the future, as more mobile accounting apps connect with mobile banking apps, business owners might no longer depend on their computers. They could accomplish their banking tasks right from their smartphones.
Prashant Ganti is Vice President at Zoho Corp. Views expressed are the author’s personal.