Every seasoned accountant has been there: feeling stretched too thin after an unforgiving busy season and eager to put it in the past.
As they eye the light at the end of the long, never ending tunnel that has been this year’s busy season (made darker by tall, structurally unsound piles of receipts), they’re probably looking forward to spring cleaning their to-do lists and getting their lives back in order…and probably not looking forward to doing it all over again in 2022.
And yet, preparation for the next busy season is already underway, with bookkeepers wondering what they can do—differently, better, more—next year to tackle their workload and preserve a little sanity at the same time.
It’s those thoughts of ‘more’ that are especially common in the lead-up to stressful times – more hours to spend working, more manpower, wondering what more can be done to support hardworking accountants grappling with remote audits and complicated tax policy changes (we won’t even mention PPP loans…) on top of their usual workload. But ‘more’ is not always better.
In fact, the secret (and there is a secret!) to surviving busy season lies in doing less – or, rather, leaving behind certain outdated practices. Accountants with less on their plate, after all, can spend less time and energy on arduous busywork…and more time providing the high-value strategic consultation and support their clients want and need most.
So, how can you do more with less? Here are four outdated practices accountants should leave behind in busy seasons to come:
Managing Manual Data Entry
Automation is sometimes treated like a threat, especially in industries like accounting that might have a reputation for being averse to change. However, it’s important to keep in mind that elevation is the goal here – not replacement. Just as there are things a computer can do that a human worker cannot, there are uniquely human issues that technology can’t solve.
Technology can’t replace accountants, but it can reduce their time spent on things like data entry (or worse, double data entry) which, in addition to eating up irreplaceable time, opens the door to errors or even, in rare cases, fraud. Accountants should make it a priority to integrate software or bots that can automatically read data from invoices, spreadsheets, and PDFs. Doing so will streamline workflows during the busy season and year-round.
Reviewing the Shoebox of Receipts
It’s every accountant’s worst nightmare: having to sift through a massive pile of unorganized paper receipts, invoices and forms at the eleventh hour.
Using automation year-round to tackle things like bill pay and managing approvals can make a big difference in lightening the administrative load. Platforms that integrate with your accounting software will eliminate double data entry and simplify account reconciliation, , which is invaluable for catching and reversing any mistakes quickly and provides a clearer, more current view into an organization’s debt and cash flow.
Tracking Down Audit Trails
Filing cabinets belong in a museum.
What accountants need is an integrated cloud dashboard with the ability to safely store and retrieve all client documents, vendor records and time-stamped transactions. A single, accurate record of the truth saves time and provides an added layer of security that ensures both practical and peace-of-mind benefits.
For instance, cloud-based accounting means that client and business data is both protected and accessible in case of an emergency – such as a natural disaster or an unprecedented pandemic that necessitates entire companies work from home.
Ignoring the Human Element
2020 was a unique year where many accountants stepped up into additional roles as business advisors and occasionally even therapists for their clients. With the right support system—including the right team, tools and technology—they can focus more time on adding that human touch to their role and less time on repetitive manual tasks and worrying about mistakes.
Increased automation can remove data entry and the need to chase paper and instead allow accountants to shift their focus toward more forward-looking services instead. This will improve data entry accuracy and help reduce the liability risk (not to mention rescue countless sets of eyes from squinting at ledgers, reviewing receipts and analyzing handwriting every day), and even benefit employee retention, morale and engagement.
It’s not surprising that accountants are feeling burned out after this busy season. (After all, even the IRS is dealing with a more-massive-than-usual backlog of tax returns and correspondence.) However, that doesn’t mean that the industry should accept exhaustion as the status quo when so many options are out there.
Investing in the right technology and automated solutions—as well as the accountants that will benefit from them—can be a lifeline this year and become a way of life during tax seasons to come.
Jeannie Ruesch works as the director of marketing at Bill.com and has been in the accounting industry for more than seven years. She has more than 25 years’ experience in brand creation and strategy, design, social media development, demand gen, and customer marketing.