Published on the 20/02/2019 | Written by Jonathan Cotton
Automation to remove the mundane, but will business benefit?…
It’s a boon for small business, bookkeepers and accountants, says Xero, automating away the monthly drudgery of financial data entry: Launched last week, Xero’s Hubdoc app streamlines financial document collection and data entry, automatically collecting financial documents and data from banks, utilities, telcos and suppliers, and syncing to Xero for reconciliation and audit-proofing.
It’s clever – though not unique – tech and was expected after Xero’s purchase of the Toronto-based Hubdoc last year for $US70m in what the company’s Sydney-based CEO Steve Vamos described as part of Xero’s ever-increasingly-automated future.
“Acquiring Hubdoc will accelerate Xero’s ability to deliver on our vision for code-free accounting,” he enthused in a LinkedIn post at the time.
“It’s all about helping small businesses, accountants and bookkeepers spend less time on manual work and more time making the right business and financial choices.”
Hubdoc automatically fetches financial documents from utilities, telecom providers and online vendors, and extracts the key financial data.
“It gives our advisors and small businesses access to verified data in near real time, enabling them to make more informed decisions.”
“Thanks to an existing integration, Xero can then automatically match this data with bank feed transactions so that accountants and their clients have an always up-to-date set of books. And all the data is ‘verified’ with the source document, and easily searchable on any device – it’s essentially a cloud based automated filing cabinet.”
So far Hubdoc can make over 150 such connections in New Zealand, including Vodafone, Mercury Energy and major banks. More connections are on the way, says Xero.
The cloud-based accounting company is encouraging its professional user-base to get on board: It’s offering the app at NZ$1 a month for six months for new sign ups in the campaign period (to 31 Mar), with accountants and bookkeepers also getting one free Hubdoc partner account for their practice. Thereafter, the usual NZ$27.50 fee per client account applies.
The offer is being made only to Xero’s accountant and bookkeeper partners, not to businesses directly.
“Ultimately our goal is, and will always be, to enable small businesses and their advisors to spend less time on administrative tasks and more time on their business,” said Xero in the statement accompanying the launch.
“Using Xero’s product, Hubdoc, gives our advisors and small businesses access to verified data in near real time, enabling them to make more informed decisions.”
But all this talk of automation brings up a question: Just how much automation is the average bookkeeper actually comfortable with?
As Xero automates more and more of the bookkeeper’s day to day grind, is Xero at risk of automating its fanbase out of a job?
No way, Xero is at pains to point out, but it is a ‘deeply transitional’ time for bookkeepers and accountants it says, and that means adapting to a more data-savvy and analytical practice… or else.
“We are living in an age where new technology is profoundly changing the way bookkeepers work,” writes Keri Gohman, Xero president, Americas on a recently created ‘Xero’s commitment to bookkeepers’ page on the Xero website.
“Artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation technology are introducing both new opportunities and new tensions… While we should not resist the change that is upon us, we can control how best to respond to it, and take advantage of it.
“We must avoid the temptation to believe the hype that the future will soon be dominated solely by technology. This is a future, already alive in the imaginations of many, where the work traditionally done by bookkeepers is eliminated and replaced by AI and on-demand, Uber-like services.
“At Xero, we are proud to deliver some of the most innovative technology that the bookkeeping industry has ever seen. But we are also determined to forge a future where the distinctly human contributions of bookkeepers continue to shine through.”
While Gohman stresses the accounting software giant’s solidarity with bookkeepers, the post makes it clear that, for bookkeepers at least, the future comes with both opportunity and obligation.
“Our industry is at a crossroads,” warns Gohman.
“We are facing a clear choice. Do we believe that the role of a bookkeeper is simply to collect and process data? Or, do we believe that the role of a bookkeeper is to engage deeply and understand what makes each and every small business unique?
“We remain committed to partner with bookkeepers, to find new ways to help them thrive, and to build a stronger future together.”
Partners will no doubt need to think carefully about how much of the costs of automation tools they pass on to their clients.