Virtual CFOs (Part 2): Bots, bookkeeping and overcoming client scepticism

Virtual or remote CFOs are using specialist software and cloud solutions to deliver services to small businesses and entrepreneurs. But as their automated solutions free up the business to focus on strategy and growth, could they be creating a model for the CFO of the future - regardless of organisational size? Beth Amato spoke to three virtual CFOs to learn how they are shaping the future of finance.

Louw Barnardt, co-founder of Outsourced CFO, believes that the most exciting area of cloud accounting software is auto allocations. This software has built-in machine learning and can look at millions of accounts being processed all over the world and allocates transactions into their correct accounts. “Manual allocations will soon be a thing of the past,” he says.

However, artificial intelligence won’t replace all aspects of bookkeeping. An article published on Botkeeper points out the irony that in an industry involving service alongside financial and regulatory expertise, artificial intelligence and automation actually “increases the human interaction with clients while reducing human error. It represents a shift that includes a mutually beneficial relationship between software and the services of an accountant.”

Louw is excited about how business is going to be done in the future, even considering the challenging economic times. “The bookkeeping function will run itself and business owners can focus on profitability and business strategy,” he says.

Overcoming client scepticism
Some of Graham Shapiro’s, owner of Myccountant, (pictured) clients were initially sceptical about virtual CFO and accounting services, notably because cloud-based technology is often associated with security risks.

“I asked them whether they do internet banking, which most of them do. The security issues with cloud-based accounting software are no different. It takes a while to convince people of the benefits of virtual services and advanced technology – we’re quite a conservative country in that respect,” he says.

Many of his clients were working on desktop software, with an accountant coming in once a month to work on the accounts. “Business owners, using outdated software, are therefore not involved in the accounts and are presented information on an Excel spreadsheet.  A virtual CFO or accountant on the other hand ensures a lot more transparency because you’re working on the same cloud-based system as them. You are collaborating and always in the loop,” he adds.

Marnus Broodryk, owner of The Beancounter, notes that while accounting services have always been outsourced, the adoption of advanced technology makes a few business owners nervous. “They think cloud-based accounting software is expensive and complex. But many smaller companies are not making the best financial decisions because they’re using outdated software. Newer software enables the accountant to do more than compliance and tax. Now, the accountant can guide and inform strategy,” he says.

Marnus believes that a good (virtual, outsourced) finance professional is an entrepreneur’s best friend. In his book, 90 Rules for Entrepreneurs Broodryk notes that once the right person is on board, “the magic happens: all your red tape is automatically taken care of and you can use the technology to grow your business and create an amazing experience for your customers, as well as having a professional who can guide you with numbers, business plans and the best tax advice.”