Automation – how automated are your systems and are some automations really relevant?

One of the hot topics at the present time in the profession is automation, and software appears on a regular basis taking this up a level each time. Automation can bring significant advantages – look at bank feeds into accounting software or purchase invoice data extraction and subsequent entry also into the accounting records.

However, is some of the automation currently being marketed really that useful?

Before the “cloud revolution” it would be the norm to print and post year -end reminders and information requests. Nowadays this can be automated, and an email or SMS text message generated asking for information.  

There are still some clients stuck in the dark ages, but many clients are now using cloud-based accounting software. If they are also using purchase invoice scanning software, all the invoices will be attached to the transactions in the accounting software too. As there is ready access to the client records through the cloud, for a significant proportion, we will already have all the information we need to prepare the accounts or complete a VAT return.

Is there any point sending all of them an email or SMS reminding them their VAT return is due for filing? Similarly, do we need to email all of them asking for accounting records when we have it all?

Yes, in some cases, we will need extra information which we will need to obtain e.g. stock figures or a new HP agreement, but these are certainly not standard requests across the board.

An email to remind clients that their July tax instalment is due for payment might be a generic email that could be worth sending. However, some clients will not have any tax due anyway, so this is “wasted”. Are the emails personalised so that the actual liability is mentioned? If so, where does this come from? Does it get picked up from the tax software or is it a manual task to populate the relevant fields? Certainly, some tax software does not store this data in a database field for easy mail merging.

Is the tax shown correct? This year, HMRC has had “issues” and many clients are not being asked to pay a July instalment. HMRC send payslips to the client in any event (although there appear to have been some issues this year!).

We are all used now to being emailed by delivery companies – “your parcel has been shipped” or “your parcel is at the holding depot”, “your parcel is due for delivery between 11:06 and 12:06” etc. Have we reached the stage yet where an email is sent from a professional firm every time the job status is changed? Would you appreciate emails along the lines of: “Your tax return has been passed for manager review”; “your tax return will be uploaded to your portal in the next 15 minutes”.

As with any automation, the output depends on the underlying databases being up to date. At least in the “old” days, whilst mail merge may have been used to produce year end reminder letters, there was an opportunity to glance at the letters to pick up inadvertent errors – e.g. sending a year end accounts reminder to someone who had ceased to trade some months before, or a letter address to Dear Fred (deceased).  In the modern world, this is still possible by reviewing reports from the database prior to hitting the “send” button.

What are your thoughts on automated messaging systems? Are you using auto messages and in what circumstances do you use it? Or would you not even contemplate such a system?

Which automation works best for you?