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Future-proofing accountancy in a post-Brexit landscape

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Byline by Roan Lavery

 

Although it has been two years since the UK left the European Union, the impact of Brexit is still being felt across the UK. From increased red tape and trading requirements to issues with logistics and supply chains, many businesses throughout the country are finding themselves dealing with new challenges in post-Brexit Britain. .

At FreeAgent, we’ve been looking specifically at the impact of Brexit on the UK’s accounting sector to better understand how the landscape has changed, how accountants are helping clients through the challenges and how they are preparing for the future.

 

Brexit and Accounting

Our most recent research suggests that the impact of the UK leaving the EU remains an ongoing issue for the accountancy profession – with 83% of accountants saying they believe the profession has changed due to Brexit, and nearly half (47%) of accountants saying they think the ramifications of Brexit are still unclear.

Many small business clients are now requiring help to navigate through increased red tape and higher costs associated with leaving the EU, but there also appears to be a growing need for accountants to help clients navigate wider economic uncertainty. The research found that accounting professionals had seen an increase in guidance (83%) and planning requests (73%) from their clients, in particular, as a result of Brexit.

Additionally, nearly half (47%) of accountants surveyed said they believe that Brexit has impacted their role to some extent, with more than a third (37%) believing that it has had a positive impact on the profession compared to the 10% who think Brexit has had a negative impact. We also found that there has been a 69% increase in client requests around managing working capital since the UK left the EU, while similar increases have been seen for requests about complications around UK financial reporting standards (68% increase), and forecasting (68% increase).

Ultimately, it appears that small business clients are increasingly looking for guidance as the UK navigates its new position outside of the European Union, with accountants being seen as key experts to provide this advice. The increase in requests across the board also suggests that further opportunities may arise for accountants as the UK continues its post-Brexit journey in the coming years.

 

Future-proofing accountancy

It’s not just Brexit that is currently having an impact on the accounting profession. When asked about the top issues that accountants would be advising clients on in the coming year, nearly half (44%) highlighted Covid-related legislation, while 42% picked the tax implications of sustainability and 39% chose the government’s flagship Making Tax Digital (MTD) legislation. We also discovered that, in order to prepare adequately for the future, one in three (33%) accountants said they thought that gaining an understanding of newer technologies would be the most important factor for future-proofing their role.

Other big issues impacting the role of accountancy include the ability to strategically identify areas of growth (52%), learning about new technologies such as app integrations (56%) and developing technical skills (49%). These elements will be – and in many cases already are – essential for the future of the profession amidst the implementation of the biggest shake-up to the UK’s tax system in years, MTD, as well as ongoing economic uncertainty caused by Brexit and an unstable political situation in Westminster.

Over the coming years, it’s likely that accountants will need to be prepared to identify new strategic areas of growth and ensure they are consistently up-skilling themselves and their practices – whether that’s training offered by professional bodies, integrating new technologies, using online resources or networking to expand their knowledge and connections.

We know many accountants are already actively working to future-proof themselves and their practices in the years ahead, by adapting to an increasingly digital world, offering new levels of service and positioning themselves as invaluable experts who can deftly help their clients meet new legislation.

Those who are not currently looking to the future, however, will need to step up and ensure they do so quickly – so they are best-placed to successfully navigate any challenges that arise over the coming years.

 

Roan Lavery is CEO and co-founder of FreeAgent, who provide award-winning accounting software for accountants working with small business clients.

Business

How can law firms embrace automation and revolutionise their payments?

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Attributed to: Ed Boal, Head of Legal at Shieldpay

 

Once again, AI is dominating international headlines. This time, it’s due to a closed-door meeting this month between tech leaders and US senators to discuss the technology’s regulation.

AI and automation isn’t just for the likes of Big Tech. We’re seeing predictive and automated technologies transform almost every sector and the legal industry is no exception. In fact, recent research from HBR Consulting found that 60% of law departments had implemented a legal data analytics tool last year and more than 1 in 4 indicated they were using AI for at least a single use case.

However, adoption isn’t without its challenges. Reticence remains among some and there’s also the danger of ‘transformation fatigue’ slowing real progress. If law firms want to reap the many benefits of automation – including revolutionising their payment processes –  these challenges need to be carefully considered and thoughtfully addressed.

 

An area of great opportunity

Often seen as conservative, the legal industry has been gradually warming up to the idea of automation and technology.

While some pioneering firms have been quick to embrace automation tools, others remain cautious about disrupting their established workflows. As we navigate this landscape, it’s clear that certain areas of legal services are ripe for innovation.

One area is contract management. The process of drafting, reviewing, and managing contracts has traditionally been time-consuming and prone to human errors. Automation can alleviate these pain points by streamlining the entire lifecycle of contracts, from creation to renewal, thereby enhancing efficiency and reducing risks.

Another promising domain is legal research. Thanks to advancements in natural language processing and machine learning, legal professionals can now leverage AI-powered research tools that analyse vast volumes of legal data to provide accurate insights and case precedents swiftly.

But, while progress is undoubtedly being made, the legal sector still lags other sectors when it comes to innovation.

 

What’s getting in the way of progress?

This isn’t always down to a resistance to change. Often, it’s a result of firms spreading their resources too thinly across numerous technology initiatives.

Ed Boal

Attempting to tackle everything at once can result in ‘transformation fatigue’, where the benefits of individual innovations get diluted – leading to frustration and slower progress.

Before legal firms embark on digital transformation projects, a critical first step is introspection. Recognising and acknowledging areas where legacy processes and manual tasks still hold sway is paramount to optimising the impact of automation.

For many firms, archaic practices continue to consume valuable time and resources, diverting attention from higher value, billable tasks. One often-overlooked area is payments.

Legal firms play a critical role in complex transactions, from M&A and real estate deals to litigation and arbitration payments. The associated admin and processes represent a drain of firms’ time and resources. Spanning everything from collating stakeholder payment details and verifying payee identity to ensuring compliance with Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti Money Laundering (AML) regulation, this adds unnecessary stress for lawyers – who would rather dedicate their time and expertise to their clients’ legal needs.

The repercussions of such time-consuming financial processes reverberate throughout the entire organisation. Administrative burden weighs heavily on the team, affecting productivity and ultimately, the bottom line: recent research from Shieldpay, surveying the UK’s Top 100 law firms, found that almost 1 in 3 (32%) say KYC collection and verification checks take 4-9 working days.

At the same time, firms are exposed to significant financial risk which can make handling client funds a costly endeavour. Not only are they penalised with fines if found to be in breach of stringent client account rules but firms are also subject to hefty premiums for Professional Indemnity (PI) insurance. No wonder 73% of all legal professionals and 90% of junior law professionals are concerned about the risks and time costs associated with holding client funds.

 

Revolutionising  payment transactions

In short, manual payment processes are more than just an inconvenience for modern law firms. They can damage relationships with clients – who have come to expect a fast, painless and automated payout experience in a digital world – and impede revenue generation by tying up top talent in an endless cycle of paperwork and (unbillable) admin.

So how can firms take the pain out of legal payments?

Fortunately, new payment technologies have emerged as a formidable ally. Third-party payment providers offering solutions for law firms, such as escrow and paying agent services for specific transactional deals, or more embedded payment solutions such as managed accounts (TPMAs) – i.e. outsourced client account functions – offer secure and instant transactions, while prioritising transparency and automation.

TPMAs operate as an escrow payment service in which the third-party – a licensed external payments partner – receives and disburses funds on behalf of a firm and their client(s).

With advanced encryption ensuring data security, working with a regulated payment partner means legal professionals and their clients can engage in financial transactions with peace of mind – while law firms benefit from improved operational efficiency.

And the advantages don’t stop there. Enhanced transparency builds a sense of confidence and trust, while the elimination of manual data entry and repetitive tasks allows legal professionals to devote more time to legal services and fostering stronger relationships with their clients.

AI and automation has much to offer the legal sector. But its adoption must be carefully planned in order to avoid transformation fatigue that risks stalling progress altogether. With typically shallower pockets than Big Tech giants, it’s important for law firms to focus their efforts on specific areas that could benefit from automation, rather than rush to overhaul their entire way of working, all at once. This controlled phase-out is the key to avoiding adoption frustration, seeing a real impact on profits and productivity and setting firms up for real, lasting change.

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Business

In-platform solutions are only a short-term enhancement, but bespoke AI is the future

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By Damien Bennett, Global Director, Principal Consultant, Incubeta

 

If you haven’t heard anyone talking about artificial intelligence (AI) yet, then where have you been? Conversations about AI and its advantages to society have been a key talking point over recent months, with advances being made in the generative AI race and ChatGPT opening a whole plethora of possibilities. Many have highlighted the advantages of AI, but notably it’s ability to create human-like content.

But these discussions have only scratched the surface of what AI is capable of doing. It is for far more than just essay writing, adding Eminem to your rave and photoshopping dogs into pictures.

In marketing, we have been using AI for years, for everything from analyzing customer behaviors to predicting market changes. It’s enabled us to segment customers, forecast sales and provide personalized recommendations, having a huge impact on how our industry works.

It is even, for the more savvy marketers of the world, becoming a key tool in maximizing budget efficiency – which is apt, considering over 70% of CMOs believe they lack sufficient budget to fully execute their 2023 strategy.

Now, as AI becomes more intelligent, the number of efficiencies it can unlock continues to rise. Not only can it help brands get the most out of their available resources and identify any areas of waste, but it can also help highlight new opportunities for growth and maximize the impact of your budget allocation.

The trick, however, is to veer away from the norm of using in-platform solutions with a one-size-fits-all approach and create your own, bespoke solutions that are tailored to your business needs.

 

Pitfalls of in-platform solutions

In-platform solutions aren’t by any means a bad thing. In fact, built-in AI tools have become increasingly popular, owing to their ease of integration, user-friendly interfaces and minimal set up requirements. They come pre-packaged with the platform, offering the user the ability to leverage AI technologies without the need for in-depth technical expertise or the upfront cost of building a solution from scratch.

However, the streamlined and accessible nature of in-platform AI solutions comes at the expense of complexity and customization. They are designed to serve a broad user base, but for the most part are built using narrow AI solutions with predefined features and workflows.

This makes them great for assisting with common AI tasks, but they lack the flexibility to tailor functionality towards unique business requirements or innovative use cases, limiting the potential efficiencies and cost savings that can be unlocked. Additionally, if a business’ competitors are using the same platform, they are probably using the same AI solution, meaning any strategic advantage gained from these will be reduced.

Bespoke AI solutions, on the other hand, may carry a higher initial investment – but can offer a significantly more attractive ROI over a short amount of time.

 

Why customized and adapted AI is the key

The difference between bespoke AI and in-platform solutions is similar to that between home cooked food and a microwave meal. Yes, it is more time consuming to prepare, and yes it likely carries more of an upfront cost, but the end result is going to be far more appealing and will carry more long-term value (financially… not nutritionally).

That’s because bespoke solutions, by nature, will have been tailored to address your brands specific needs and challenges. These custom-built tools allow for much greater efficiencies by streamlining workflows across different channels, automating more complex tasks, and providing deeper, more relevant insights.

The increased level of optimization can significantly improve productivity and reduce operational costs over time, offering a higher ROI. The increased flexibility of bespoke AI also allows brands to implement innovative use cases that can significantly differentiate them from their competitors.

The data analyzed can be specifically chosen to match business requirements, as can the outputs of the AI tool, providing a significant advantage when understanding and acting on the insights provided.

Additionally, these tools are, by nature, more scalable. They can be updated, upgraded and expanded as needs change, ensuring they continue delivering value as the business grows. They can also be designed to integrate with any existing IT infrastructure, from CRM systems and databases to marketing platforms and sales tools – leading to more efficient and effective decision-making.

 

Managing finances with AI

It’s no secret that AI in marketing automation has, and will continue to, revolutionize the way marketing is done. It has a bright, if slightly terrifying, future and can help CMOs to unlock new efficiencies, maximize the impact of their budgets and increase their ROI. And as this technology becomes more advanced, its impact will only increase.

But we already know that…and so does everyone else.

So, in order for businesses to make themselves stand out from the crowd , they must look to fully adopt the power of AI. Creating a customized and unique AI solution could be the way to set yourself apart from your competitors. A bespoke AI tool can provide brands and businesses with features unique to them and their business needs. As a result, companies will benefit from more useful data and better results to make more data-driven decisions for their business. Ultimately, this will help brands to maintain a competitive edge over their competitors, deliver ROI and most importantly optimize their budgets.

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