Blog|8 min

Accounting and Automation: More Productive Firms, Successful Accountants, and Happier Clients

Brandon Roth
Bill.com, Senior Manager of Technical Marketing

Automation in Action Part 1: More Efficient Firms

When accounting firms adopt automation, the results are in: greater efficiency and productivity. And that means the accounting firms that haven’t adopted automation need to ask a core question: are your people, processes, and services built to look toward the past—or toward future opportunities? If you’re not sure, it’s time to reassess.

2020 was a year of reckoning for accounting firms and their clients. Disruption in processes and gaps in technology made weaknesses clear and urgent. Change might have been forced, but that only makes 2021 the year to optimize.

What does that mean?  It means don’t go back to business as usual. Instead:

  • Maintain your momentum

  • Reassess or refresh your strategy

  • Unlock more value through the power of automation

Adopting automation can provide powerful and essential value to your firm in 3 ways: greater efficiency, employee enablement, and enhanced value for your clients.

Automation and Efficiency

The harshest word of this decade isn’t a four-letter expletive; it’s a six-letter curse: Manual.

Manual work wastes your precious time, flushes your clients’ dollars down the drain, and sends talent running for new opportunities. In short, it’s a productivity killer.

Think about manual systems in other contexts. Would you manually open your garage door for long before getting a new, automated door? Or how about the days of getting up to change the dial on the TV? Does anyone want to go back to that?

To succeed today, firms need to offer real-time, transparent, seamless, and secure solutions that can be completed without interruption—no matter where work is done. Automation powers that potential.

Ask: Are Your Processes Optimized?

Any long, repetitive, friction-filled process should be a problem of the past. The hard truth is that each link in a chain of action creates room for error or fraud, and therefore presents risk to your firm and to your clients.

Are your processes optimized? Watch for these signs of stress:

  • Does your team regularly dig through boxes of receipts or sort through paper files for reconciliation?

  • Are you manually entering financial or transaction data?

  • Is your AP process more than 3 steps?

  • Do you have incomplete audit trails?

  • Are you printing and mailing checks?

If you answered yes to any of the above, automation can help your firm create more efficient and effective processes.

Take AP, for example. Historically, AP has been a multi-step process with invoices bouncing back and forth from department to department for approvals, processing, and payment. Each bounce takes time and opens up room for error or even fraud. By automating AP, invoices can be stored, reviewed, approved, and paid without having to chase down approvals or physically print checks.

Automation Results in a More Valuable Firm

Eliminating steps in AP, or in any other process, creates white space for flexibility and opportunity. In fact, our customers report on average a 50% reduction in time spent managing their clients’ bill pay—what could your firm and your staff do with 50% more time to help clients with other needs? Now, imagine the potential efficiency boost of adding automation to other kinds of tasks—from time entry to expense reports.

Each time an automated process repeats, with fewer human touchpoints and less friction, the value to your firm compounds:

  • More time to focus on client relationships or advisory services

  • More time to invest in training or professional development

  • More time to focus on resolving technical accounting issues

  • More flexibility to do your job on your own terms—anytime, anywhere

  • And, of course, more profitability

In other words, automation helps you game the efficiency equation: efficiency = output/input.

More automation → fewer manual tasks → fewer mistakes = more time for other client services

Put simply, automating processes accelerates your firm’s potential.

Automation in Action Part 2: More Successful Accountants

Accountants are known for their analytical skills, talent for numbers, and attention to detail, but for decades they’ve been bogged down by paper trails, receipts, and painstaking processes that chained them to a desk. Not anymore. Technology has been the greatest enabler of accountants since the abacus, and automation can take career prospects and job satisfaction—as well as your firm’s success—to the next level.

From helping accountants perform their job more efficiently, to lowering the risk of errors, to freeing up time for professional development and analytical work, the age of automation has arrived. The result: it’s never been a better time to start or build a career in accounting.

Attracting Talent

Competition for skilled accountants at every level has been heated for years. Whether in a large or small firm, prospective staff have high expectations for benefits, remote work flexibility, and now … technology enablement. They’re matching those high expectations with valuable new skill sets, from data analytics and coding to niche industry experience.

As both the profession and professionals evolve, it’s critical to adapt traditional roles to be more attractive—and built for the future. Expect prospective talent to think about their day-to-day tasks and long-term career prospects in connection with technology, seeking to understand the workflows and processes they’ll oversee and the potential for forward-thinking, analytical roles enabled by automation.

Boosting Career Development

When accountants begin to automate routine, manual tasks, they create a higher-value service for their clients. As a result, clients experience fewer errors, a lower risk of fraud, and receive more personal attention and analysis from their accountants. Accounting professionals experience less frustration and have new opportunities to upskill to more consultative work and higher-value services.

Limiting Turnover Troubles

For years, firm and company leaders have lost sleep over concerns about critical knowledge walking out their door if an employee decides to leave. Turnover is always a challenge in any competitive industry, and some productivity loss is unavoidable. However, with more automated processes, companies are less likely to be left in the lurch even when a key professional departs.

Automation is ushering in a golden age of opportunity in the accounting and bookkeeping profession. Enhanced career opportunities will translate into growth for companies and additional value for clients.

Automation in Action Part 3: Stronger Client Relationships

Accountants have always looked for ways to develop and deepen relationships with their clients. Automation is the secret ingredient.

Expectations have changed. Even as the pandemic added physical barriers, it also knocked down metaphorical walls for accountants to help clients with their most pressing needs. From taking advantage of opportunities under the CARES Act, to sharing advice for keeping the lights on, to serving as a supportive sounding board in times of need, accountants truly stepped up in a critical time.

When accountants helped their clients move systems online, they also helped them get more time back to focus strategically on their business. The benefits of automation for clients are huge: they get to grow the business they love instead of wasting time pushing paper from desk to desk.

And with greater efficiency and more empowered employees, accounting firms can focus more on advisory services to help clients make key business decisions when they need to make them. In a study Bill.com conducted, one of the top reasons clients gave for firing their accountant was a lack of proactive, strategic advice.

Bringing automated systems, simplified and more secure workflows, and real-time decision capabilities to customers will make your relationships stronger and “stickier.”

Automation Reduces Risk

The risk of potential fraud is ever-present, but it’s even more heightened in crisis. Business owners have rightfully shifted their focus to adapting their strategies, following new safety protocols, and protecting their customers and workforce. Now, more than ever, they need a watchful eye on their transactions and processes so irregular activity doesn’t get overlooked. In fact, 48% of accountants report that the risk of fraud is a concern.

By automating AP and other workflows, companies clarify and verify the segregation of duties, ensure accuracy of information, and provide a stamped audit trail. Stronger internal controls, enabled by both automation and human oversight, can help lesson client concerns.

Automation Increases Client Insight

In a recent survey, when clients were asked what they would change about their accounting firms, 27% said they wanted more familiarity with the business and its industry. When accountants are freed from manual tasks, they have more time to get sharper on emerging issues, technical accounting changes, and industry trends. They also have more time to analyze their clients’ information, so they can offer perspective and advice on business or financial trends.

And as accounting firms standardize clients within similar industries on automated platforms and workflows, those firms gain the ability to understand their clients’ industry at a higher level, recognizing where the opportunities are and what benchmarks their customers need to exceed. For example, automated AP provides information that can help advise clients on cash flow trends, including revenue and spending trends by season or service.

Clients are looking for these services: In a recent survey, buyers identified strategic advisory services at the top of their wish list, including revenue growth and business modeling (65%), budgeting (46%), tax planning (38%), risk management (38%), and advanced KPI reporting (35%).

Automation Gives Your Firm An Edge

Today’s marketplace has fundamentally changed, and new client demands are emerging. Now is the time to make sure your service strategy—and the technology that fuels it—is designed to meet your clients’ future needs.

The evidence is clear. A whopping 94% of firms told us that automating more of their bookkeeping tasks would help them grow their business.

Establish an edge over your competitors through automation,, claim your share of that expanding market, and reap the rewards of deeper client relationships.


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