“The paperless office” came about as a concept in the mid-1990s, with the evolution of business computing to the point where it could reduce, or even cut, paper from most forms of a workflow. The question is, what will this look like every day in audit and accounting practices?
In the past two decades, this potential has come to bear fruit, during the age of a generational shift where new practitioners and professionals have grown up with the internet as part of daily life, and whose level of physical connection to and contact with documents is much lower as compared to their mentors and superiors. For example, Millennials are not likely to print out emails and more trusting of digital documents. Moreover, as with many other interactions with the government, the digital use and electronic submission of tax returns online are the norm and can be accomplished without the use of paper.
In short, this signifies freedom for the accounting industry and its clients. Foremost, clients are no longer required to take boxes of receipts and invoices to their accountants every month. Instead, receipts can be photographed and uploaded into accounting software – which practitioners can access – or can be read and processed by a third-party app. The same software is used to send invoices, increasing the likelihood that they will be paid faster as customers make use of instant, online ‘click and pay now’ buttons to make secure payments. streamlined and automated customer onboarding for ‘pull’ payments, e.g. direct debit gets customer payment authority in as little as 20 seconds. To encourage paperless financial transactions, and as cheques are dying out as a payment method, clients still using them can cash cheques by uploading a photo of them to a certain bank’s website. This is already a commonplace practice in several other countries.
The paperless practice also represents freedom for accountants conducting bank account reconciliation without laboring over printed statements, as all transactions are tracked and compared with bank balances. Recorded Invoices, and reports calculated instantly. Individual client accounting data used to make cash flow projections, sales, and revenue forecasts, and run reports covering almost any possible financial angle. Work that before took days is now accomplished in minutes.
The resultant freedom from number-crunching and basic legwork are leaving accountants free to focus on advisory services. Accounting and audit practices are becoming more accessible to and practical for clients who gain increasing benefit advice on how their clients should invest for the future, change their business practices, find new sales opportunities and so forth. Clients no longer need to spend large amounts of time doing what is boring and tiring, but necessary financial paperwork. Instead, they have the freedom to concentrate on running and grow their business.
Technology in a paperless practice is simple: it’s a laptop, a smartphone and a handful of secure online accounting and payment processing apps. Gone are the days of filing cabinets, letter in-trays and out-trays, rooms of stored paperwork, untidy piles of invoices and receipts to be recorded and processed by hand. It’s future freedom, reimagined. It’s happening now!