Self-learning technology could perform 90% of data entry tasks – but will it take your job?

  • May 14, 2019
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Self-learning technology could create a scenario where bookkeepers only have to do one in 10 invoices, according to Markus Mantere, sales director of robotics company Arkimera.

Arkimera have developed a self-learning AI product which “learns” how to file accounts exactly as the user would have done. It could kick-start a revolution in how accountants work.

“This technology opens up possibilities for bookkeeping firms to do their job more efficiently and cheaper than the competition today,” Mantere said. However, he warned that expectations of accountants would inevitably change. “I believe you need to broaden your offering because manual data entry will be less and less relevant,” he said.

ICAEW’s head of IT Faculty, Richard Anning agreed. He said that the original premise behind MTD was “to make it easier for your plumbers and your hairdresser” and to make manual data entry less problematic.

“People could just take a picture of the invoices on their mobile and shoot that through to their accounting software which gets updated automatically, then off it goes to their accounting system and off to HMRC and the tax is sorted. That’s the nirvana and its starting to happen,” Anning added.

But will this lead to mass job losses for accountants?

“When farmers were domesticating animals, it wasn’t like the horse or the bull was taking the farmers job, it was a new tool in the toolbelt and the farmers that started using animals were more prosperous,” Mantere said. 

Speaking at Accountex last week, Ed Molyneux CEO of FreeAgent was similarly optimistic about the impact of disruptive technology.

“The majority of people [accountants] say their least enjoyable thing is chasing up clients and messing around with numbers. Well, that’s great news as we are talking about those things being automated away,” Molyneux said. “Today we are stating to see things like bookkeeping become much more automated. That’s what we all benefit from every day that we work with clients, the ability to use tools to help do our job better.” 

It appears this attitude is widespread among accountants. Molyneux said that a survey by FreeAgent found that 75% of accountants thought some of their job would be automated in the next five years, but 82% still felt that a robot could not do their job.

Opportunity not a threat

Instead of mass job losses, Molyneux believed that the role of an accountant will instead move to a more advisory role. “We are going to see more automation and more ability to be able to assume that these things are just taken care of in software. And then move from this first aid kit role, which is just keeping these clients alive, to being able to generate new ideas to genuinely help clients grow their business.”

Similarly, Anning believes that over time “the role of the accountant will change from one being a tax preparer to one being a tax assurer, to making sure that what HMRC is charging you is correct.”

Like Molyneux, Anning was upbeat about the changes that technology would bring to the industry and felt that optimism was widespread:

“Everyone I talk to sees it as an opportunity. Because accountants, intelligent people, don’t necessarily want to spent loads of timing doing detailed compliance work. It’s much more satisfactory to do the higher level stuff: business coaching, business advisory, insight from the data.”

“It’s a much more satisfactory, higher value service, and I think most of our members that I talk to are much keener to do higher value work,” Anning said.  

However, Mantere was unconvinced that the idea of accountants moving to an advisory role was realistic for the whole profession.

“I know that this advisory thing is really high stuff, I believe that is one way towards the future. But at the same time, it would be naïve to say, “how many accountants and bookkeepers do we have today? All of them are going to become advisers instead,” he said. “Why would there all of a sudden, be that big of a need amongst all of the customers? That is not a customer perspective, that is the perspective from the industry.”

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Self-learning technology could perform 90% of data entry tasks – but will it take your job?

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