The first recorded name in history belongs to an accountant

Around 12,000 BC humans began The Agricultural Revolution, when we started to move away from nomadic foraging towards settling on and cultivating land.

Gradually, individual settlements became cities and cities became empires, which led to a new problem for us: there was now a need to manage taxes and therefore collect data about the income and possessions of tens of thousands of people. Handing lots of numbers, about lots of things, is not something that forager brains are genetically programmed to do. A system for recording numerical data was needed for the first time.

First to overcome the problem were the Sumerians, in southern Mesopotamia. About 3,000 BC unknown Sumerian geniuses invented a system for storing and processing information outside of their brains. This system is called "writing '.

This writing was etched on clay tablets and one of the earliest messages from our ancestors that we have unearthed reads: "29,086 measures barley 37 months Kushim". Scholars believe the most probable reading of this sentence is: "A total of 29,086 measures of barley were received over the course of 37 months. Signed Kushim".

If the archaeologists are correct, and Kushim was indeed a person, then the first recorded name in history belongs to an accountant, rather than a prophet, a poet or a great conqueror!

Inspired by Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari

Dark Matter in the accounting software universe

Why can't we see everything in the known UK accounting software universe?

Why can't we see everything in the known UK accounting software universe?

The ICAEW conducted research in March 2016, looking at the readiness of UK small business for HMRC's new Making Tax Digital initiative. 

Using the survey estimate that 75% of UK small businesses do not currently use accounting software, the calculation of UK businesses that ARE using accounting software gives a figure of 1.25 million.

I struggle to get my estimates of the user numbers for Sage, QuickBooks, Xero, KashFlow et-al. to total anything near a million.

This suggests that either [a] the ICAEW percentages are not accurate or [b] there is an unknown, invisible accounting software provider making up the difference between the visible software companies and the total.

A bit like "Dark Matter" in the universe?

It's time you stopped fixing the same errors every year

You know how it is: these accounts have taken way longer than expected, you're already thinking about how much time to write off and there are three other clients chasing you. You decide you'll send your final adjustments to the client later, when you have time. It doesn't happen.

Accountants are busy. Clients want to pay less and get the work done quicker. Something usually has to give and that is the customer care at the end of the year-end accounts work. It's not absolutely essential, so, often, it gets put off and then never done.

If you don't give your client a list of the adjustments you made to their year-end figures then they can't update their own software and ensure that their balances match yours. The client then spends the rest of the year managing their business with incomplete and inaccurate information. And, come next year, the first job you have to do is fix the opening balances.

And what about feeding back to the client on the state of their accounting records? Usually you'll have found and fixed lots of errors, spotted and added missing transactions and removed duplications. You'll have re-classified expenses and renamed accounts - and you won't have shown and explained any of this to the client. So next year they'll make the same mistakes again and then you'll need to charge them for the fix.

Checkmybooks allows you to generate a file of your adjustments and send them to the client in seconds. They import them in minutes and the job's done. Our software also automatically produces a Client Advisory Report at the end of every year-end job: summarising all the work you've done, listing all the review points you looked at and all the adjustments you made. The client can then easily see what they can do better.

Now it only takes a few clicks to finish the job off properly.

Just because you can, doesn't mean you should

For me, DIY stands for "don't involve yourself". I know what I am good at, and what jobs I have the tools for. I am more than happy to get on with what I do best and let someone else do the stuff they specialise in. Horses for courses.

Soon, all accounting software will allow business owners to submit their own accounts to Companies House and HMRC. They'll be able to file their own tax returns too. But will they want to?

No, they won't. Well some will, of course, but you can already guess who they will be. The vast majority of your clients will still want your help, because accounts are not easy to understand and tax rules are pretty scary. There's money at risk and there is nothing more uncomfortable than not knowing what you don't know.

So no change then? Not quite. The rules of the game will be subtly different. Accountants will no longer be the gatekeepers, the enablers in the space between their clients and the authorities. The client no longer needs their accountant to get their stuff filed - but they do want their accountant to provide advice, assurance and intervention when necessary. Instead of charging to prepare accounts, accountants will be charging clients for their professional review.

Because buying compliance services from accountants will become a discretionary, no longer mandatory, purchase, clients will be looking for value for money pricing and quick turnaround. Luckily, accountants using Checkmybooks will have the perfect tool for that particular job.

Your office might look tidier, but do you still know what's going on?

In the old days when clients brought in their "books" in carrier bags and boxes, any accountant could easily see which accounts jobs they had in, and which were still to start, just by surveying the carpet in their office. That's not an option now that information is electronic.

These days, most firms will use a practice management system or spreadsheets to keep track of their year-end accounts workload. However, manually keeping these logging systems up to date can seem a chore and just another admin task to perform - without any immediate benefit. If the system falls out of use then it's incomplete and useless.

When the office is busy, maybe because it's January, and everyone's feeling a little fraught, it's vital that you know what year-ends still need doing, who has and hasn't sent in their accounts data, which jobs you've started work on and which ones you've finalised.

Because Checkmybooks is software specifically designed for the year-end accounts work that accountants do, it helps you manage your work while you are doing it, all as one, simple integrated process. Your jobs to get in are in the Due tab, the ones to start are in the Received tab. If you've asked the client for their data but not received it yet, then you'll see their job in the Requested tab.

And all this great management information is visible in the same software that's removing the tedium and repetition in reviewing, analysing and correcting your clients' accounts - all in a fraction of the time.

Working with several different flavours of accounting software is easier than you think

Once the eighties and nineties PC software battle settled down, the products left standing were Sage and QuickBooks. Since then many accountancy firms have got used to recommending Sage to all of their clients and, often, refusing to work with anything else. Times are now changing though.

Sage have lost their dominant grip on the UK accounting software market. With the ascent of the internet and cloud services as a means of delivery, new entrants such as Xero, KashFlow, FreeAgent and Clearbooks have emerged. Sage and QuickBooks have responded with their own cloud offers. Clients now have a choice of accounting software products to choose from - and often they are making their choice without asking their accountant's permission first.

There were good reasons why firms settled on Sage: it was a tried and tested product, accountants knew how to use it and so did their staff. Also, as the de-facto market standard, nobody was every going to get fired for recommending Sage.

But now accountants have a dilemma: do they really want to turn away great new clients just because they don't use Sage or whichever other single product they have centered their practice around?

The commercial answer is no, you don't. The technology world has changed and clients have changed. The accountancy firms that prosper in the future will be the ones that adapt to and embrace the new software being preferred by their clients. They will happily work with the software that works best for each individual client, not the one product that suits the firm.

Since Checkmybooks reads data from Sage, QuickBooks and Xero (others coming very soon) your staff only need to know how Checkmybooks works, so can process year-end accounts with ease, no matter what software the client chooses to use - and without your practice needed to own a copy of every software package.

Does anyone at your firm want to take over from you?

It used to be that bright young things would train at a small accountancy firm, learn their trade, pass the exams and then, after a polite period of time, start knocking on the door asking about partnership. Apparently, it's no longer like that.

In its analysis of the UK's small accountancy firms in September 2015, Economia magazine found that succession planning was one of the biggest issues facing the profession, saying: "Since the economic crash, partners have become seven years older and not many new partners have been admitted. Firms are going to have to think about how they can attract younger people into partnership."

In January 2016 other research, from Blackline a software provider, suggested that finance staff are suffering from "repetitive task injury". 64% of respondents said that accountants often leave jobs because "they are not happy with the manual, repetitive workload". The same report also determined that accountants are leaving the profession "because they are not given the best tools to do their job properly".

The UK accountancy market is seeing a marked increase in merger activity between small and medium sized firms. This is being driven by the succession planning problem firms are facing. If you want to remain independent and have someone to pass on the firm to, you need to be thinking hard about making the opportunity look attractive.

It would appear that partnership opportunities don't sell themselves anymore.

Of course, if you do want to minimise the repetitive workload and give your team the best tools to do their job properly, then Checkmybooks will do that for you. 

Can software really do an accountant's job?

No. But it can do some of the jobs accountants do, probably the bits you least like doing.

It was way back in August 2011 when Marc Andreessen famously declared that "Software is eating the world". His message was that "all of the technology required to transform industries through software finally works and can be widely delivered at global scale". So, what does this mean for the accountancy industry?

Martin Ford suggests some thought-provoking theories in his book The Rise of the Robots - the main thrust being that traditional white-collar professions, like accountancy, need to adapt to the challenge already coming from new technology.

As machine intelligence advances, inexorably and exponentially, those of us who make a living from what we have in our heads, rather than what we do with our hands, will need to react. We'll need to recognise where the real value of our experience, expertise and intuition lies and concentrate our efforts there. We can only do that if we remove ourselves from the repetitive, routine, predictable work that computers will soon be able to do better than us. And at almost no cost.

Of course, the professional landscape is not going to change overnight, as some would have us believe, but it will. You will probably already recognise the evidence around you - in small pockets of new technology and new software, all of which will eventually coalesce.

The trick now is to accept that if something can be done by software it will be. Look for these opportunities and embrace them, let automation take away your grunt work and enjoy doing the clever, more valuable stuff instead.