It’s taken more than 20 years for that potential to really bear fruit, but we’re now seeing a generational shift of people who grew up with the internet as a fact of life, who have less of a connection to physical documents, who are less likely to print out emails to read them at leisure, and more willing to trust digital documents. We’re also now in an era in which electronic tax returns being lodged online are the norm, and many other interactions with the government can be carried out without resort to paper.
But what does this mean for the accounting industry and their clients? In a word: freedom.
Freedom for your clients, who don’t need to bring you boxes of receipts and invoices every month. Instead, they can photograph receipts and upload the photos into their accounting software – which you can also access – or have them read electronically and processed by a third-party app.
Invoices can be sent electronically from the same software and are likely to be paid faster, because customers can click ‘pay now’ buttons to send secure payments. Customer sign-ups for ‘pull’ payments such as direct debit can be streamlined and automated, getting customer payment authority in as little as 20 seconds. Although cheques are a dying payment method in Australia, clients still using them may soon find they can cash them by uploading a photo of them to their bank’s website, as is already possible in some other countries.
Going paperless also means freedom for accountants. Bank account reconciliation is done without having to sweat over printed statements, because all transactions are tracked and compared with bank balances. Invoices are recorded automatically and ageing reports calculated instantly. Using each clients’ accounting data, you can make cash flow projections, sales and revenue forecasts, and run reports covering almost any financial angle you can imagine. What used to take days can now be done in minutes.
What you and your clients do with this freedom is up to you. Many accountants are transforming their firms’ focus from number-crunching to advisory services. Freed from the basic accounting leg-work, they can offer more useful and practical advice on how their clients should invest for the future, modify their business practices, find new sales opportunities and so on. Clients don’t have to spend so much time doing what is – to them – boring, tiring but necessary financial paperwork. They get to concentrate on what they really want to do, which is to run and grow their business.
To answer the question of what technology will – and does – look like in a paperless environment is simple: it’s a laptop on a desk, a smartphone in the pocket, a handful of secure online accounting and payment processing apps… and nothing else. No filing cabinets, no in-trays or out-trays for letters, no vast rooms of stored paperwork, no untidy pile of invoices and receipts to be recorded and processed manually by hand.
It looks like freedom – and it’s not in the future, it’s now!
Joseph Robins, Australia country lead, GoCardless