AI will transform our workflow and boost profits according to FreeAgent survey

Accounting software
(Image credit: Future)

FreeAgent, the cloud-accounting software specialist, has released the results of a new survey that underlines just how much automation can do for your work/life balance and business profits.

Key findings reveal that nearly 1 in 2 accountants (49%) believe an automated workflow will lead to a reduction in stress and/or boredom from dealing with data-entry tasks. A similar number (48%) believe it will help provide a better work/life balance.

The new research also highlights that 81% of accountants think they can save up to 2 hours a day (10 hours a week) by using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to automate simple tasks, unlocking up to £68,163 of additional revenue annually.

Artificial intelligence

Nearly 1 in 4 (24%) Scottish accountants believe they could save a sizeable 3-4 hours a day through automation, potentially unlocking up to £119,285.25 of additional revenue annually.

When asked to predict how quickly the industry will embrace technology to automate some or all accounting tasks, 59% of the 200 respondents think only some tasks will be automated within one year, 72% think some tasks will be automated within five years and 59% think the majority of tasks will be automated within 10 years.

Younger people have more faith in technology, with 77% of 18-35 year olds stating that some accounting tasks will be automated within five years, compared to 57% of over 55s. In contrast, nearly 1 in 10 (9%) of those aged 55+ believe no automation is coming to the accounting industry within 10 years, compared to one in 50 (2%) of 18-35 year olds.

The research also suggests that the Welsh are the most skeptical of any imminent change technology will bring to the sector, with just 33% believing some accounting tasks will be automated in one year’s time, compared to 72% of those based in the South East.

Accountants see artificial intelligence as most useful for accurate auto-reconciling of data in client accounts (50%), preventing clients entering incorrect information (45%), and dealing with HMRC (44%) with 90% of those in larger firms (of over 300 people) being interested in using AI, compared to 76% of those in of firms up to 50 people

Again, age seems to have an impact on willingness to embrace technology, with 40% of over 55s say they are not interested in using AI in their practice, compared to just 14% of younger colleagues.

Unsurprisingly, the majority of accountants across the board (61%) believe that technology’s biggest impact in a firm will be around increasing the automation of data. However, many accountants believe other aspects of the industry will be impacted by technology:

Over one in three (37%) think technology will lead to less face-to-face time spent with clients. Meanwhile, male accountants are twice as likely to believe technology will provide wider accessibility to challenger banks and new finance providers (42% vs 21%). Nearly 1 in 2 accountants (49%) believe automation will lead to a reduction in stress and/or boredom from dealing with data-entry tasks, and a similar number (48%) believe it will help provide a better work/life balance.

However, those working in the capital are clearly hoping technology will provide some relief from the day to day grind, with 68% of London-based accountants believing automation will help with work/life balance, compared to just 9% of those based in the East of England. Twice as many women (43%) as men (20%) believe automation will provide opportunities for growth.

Ed Molyneux, co-founder and CEO at FreeAgent said, “When small simple tasks require paperwork and endless data-entry, they are the things that often get left to the end of the day or week. Not only does this take up a significant amount of time when you eventually get around to them, but it can lead to unnecessary levels of stress and boredom.

I am therefore not surprised that almost half the accountants we surveyed believe that automation will help provide a better work/life balance and reduce stress. Essentially automation gives people back time, which is not only beneficial to them but can save a company a huge amount in hours for just one employee over a year.

By simply eliminating mundane, complicated processes around simple tasks, automation can bring explosive change that truly has the potential to revolutionize accountancy as a profession. In our survey, we see that accountants - and women, in particular - believe automation can open the door to opportunities for growth in business and create the chance for them to excel. 

With less time spent on admin and logging data, accountants then have time to focus on other aspects of the job including more consultative work, which will also bring significant benefits to their clients.”

Rob Clymo

Rob Clymo has been a tech journalist for more years than he can actually remember, having started out in the wacky world of print magazines before discovering the power of the internet. Since he's been all-digital he has run the Innovation channel during a few years at Microsoft as well as turning out regular news, reviews, features and other content for the likes of TechRadar, TechRadar Pro, Tom's Guide, Fit&Well, Gizmodo, Shortlist, Automotive Interiors World, Automotive Testing Technology International, Future of Transportation and Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology International. In the rare moments he's not working he's usually out and about on one of numerous e-bikes in his collection.