September 7, 2022

What CPA Firms Need To Know About Automation

On the latest segment of Coffee Talk, Cetrom’s CEO Christopher Stark sits down with Marc Staut, shareholder and chief innovation and technology officer for Boomer Consulting, to talk about how automation can help CPA firms strengthen their accounting practices. CPA firms can utilize automation to streamline and improve their business practices as well as enhance and promote employees’ skills. Automation doesn’t have to replace jobs—rather it provides new tools and opportunities for employees and CPA firms alike.

Why should firms be looking at automation?

Automation is the wave of the future, but also, it’s already here! About 53% of all accounting firms have started automation, with this number expected to increase to 72% over the next few years. What is automation, exactly? In brief, automation for accounting firms relies on machine learning and software that completes many traditional accounting tasks done by humans.

For CPA firms, their business depends on being 100% accurate. With tax rules and policies changing all the time, automation can help immensely with accuracy. CPA firms can take advantage of the many tools that automation offers. 

  • Augments and supports human workers. Employees might be hesitant to embrace automation because their jobs could be replaced. However, automation replaces less than 5% of occupations using current technology. Existing machine learning (EML) allows CPA employees to save time through improved day-to-day tasks and processes for accounting practices. 
  • Integrates process and technology to streamline and foolproof employee practices. Automation can help streamline the tax process by improving the categorization process, staying on top of filing and regulatory details, verifying expenditures more quickly, and using advanced accounting techniques like referencing that uses a living model to track clients’ accounts in real time. 
  • Blends in talent, leadership, and growth. Talent is difficult to find right now. Employees often at the bottom of the organizational pyramid are often stuck with boring, mundane, and often repeatable tasks. They may burn out or look for other opportunities for growth. Automation can help these employees, who are hungry for growth, become a part of the automation process as well as be assigned new, more interesting tasks since automation now completes the old ones. 

How do firms get started with automation? 

Boomer Consulting’s Marc Staut recommends two methods for CPA firms to implement to help them get started on automation.

  1. Review current processes. Before embarking on automation, CPA firms should review their workflow processes in place now. It is next to impossible to automate a process that hasn’t been defined yet. CPA firms need to optimize these processes to understand how automation can streamline and make them more efficient.
  2. Identify repeatable or mundane tasks. CPA firms need to ask themselves: what are the tasks within the process that are continuously repeatable or so boring that are considered undesirable tasks by staff? Talk to employees at the lower level of the organizational pyramid and ask them which tasks they don’t like doing and what tasks are constantly being repeated to get an idea as to how automation can help them. Also, ask employees to participate in the automation pilot so they can be involved and assist the process, even for creating bots. Much of the automation process uses either no code or low code, so employees don’t have to be computer science wizards to be involved.

What type of things can be automated?

CPA firms can automate certain tasks which are often repeated daily or may be considered mundane. Importantly, automation can help ease the burden of itemizing, billing, monitoring, and reporting tasks that accounting firms often do. According to data, many administrative staff tasks spend a lot of time on information gathering; a survey of one firm revealed that their administrative staff spent 80% of their time on these tasks. While some tasks cannot be automated, those ones that are saved massive amounts of time, from 10 to 30 hours per week, or even manhours equalling multiple full-time employees.

Also, automation can help with other tasks including screen scraping for e-filing. So, instead of an employee clicking refresh on the browser to check for updates and then logging into another system to update the workflow, automation improves this process almost immediately. Further, if CPA firms use a client portal where clients upload their documents to a secure folder, automation helps move these files to a designated location in the document management system. 

What are some of the tools that firms are looking at to move automation forward? 

CPA firms can start looking at the following tools that include automation software. The two best programs on the market are UiPath and Blue Prism. Purchasing automation software is expensive, so CPA firms should have an employee who’s an expert in these automation programs. With an in-house expert, the firm can get the employee the tool they want and can work toward implementation of automation processes with the software. 

Often, CPA firms don’t realize that they already have an automation tool that’s already “free.” With a Microsoft 365 subscription, 90% of CPA firms have access to Microsoft’s Power Automate. CPA firms can start using this auto-automating, cloud-based tool until they outgrow it, saving them time and money in the process. 

What skill sets are needed? 

CPA firms can identify employees who will be champions of automation. According to Marc, it’s more about mindsets and less about skill sets. CPA firms should find an employee who isn’t afraid of automation. Many people are afraid of losing their jobs due to automation and don’t want to leave those repeatable or boring tasks behind. So, CPA firms should identify an employee who isn’t afraid of automation and has a growth mindset as well as technical aptitude and patience. Automation doesn’t always work the first time, so the employee in charge will need to adapt. 

CPA firms can also identify employees who can build bots to adopt automation. Those employees who helped create the bot may think that they don’t need to be updated. Unfortunately, with any system, software, or other platform updates, the bot might need to be updated or rebuilt too. It will involve an employee who can be creative, adaptive, and patient to fix the bot so it runs correctly again.

Additionally, CPA firms should work with an employee who can identify opportunities and champion automation. This employee should have the ability to take their ideas to leadership, identify the low-hanging fruit, and really build up momentum to spur the automation process. 

Where can firms look for additional help in this area? 

Sometimes CPA firms may find themselves stuck within the automation process and unsure on how to proceed. There are several different ways CPA firms can look for additional help for the automation process. First, peer groups at other CPA firms are excellent resources to understand how they implemented automation. CPA firms can talk to other groups to see how they moved toward automation, what resources they leveraged, steps they took, and any best practices implemented. Often other CPA firms may use outside providers, so finding out what provider they used can also be helpful. 

Second, CPA firms should identify where they are hosting—if they are using hosting, these platforms often know the “back end” of the system very well. They can provide guidance and methods to scale up the system. Third, CPA firms can have a few dedicated virtual machines to have them run as needed for the automation. Bots run 24/7, so they don’t need holidays or breaks. It’s worth powering up another desktop or computer unit with the IT provider. 

 

How can Cetrom help CPA firms with automation?

CPA firms can explore these skills, tools, and ideas for exciting opportunities in their move toward automation. If CPA firms are interested in automating certain processes, Cetrom can assist. Cetrom is a proven cloud-based provider with expertise particularly suited for CPA firms. Our company is 100% focused on CPA firms and hosts accounting-specific applications. We know how to keep CPA firms safe and secure, especially during the automation process.

Contact Cetrom today to learn more about how we can assist you with your automation needs. 

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