From XU Magazine, 
Issue 39

Creating capacity with cloud software and AI

XU Magazine spoke to Cameron Ford, Silverfin’s UK General Manager and Russell Frayne, Director of Transformation at Gravita a top 30 full service accounting firm.

Silverfin ( is a cloud software firm started by an accountant for accountants ten years ago. It now supports over 800 accounting firms, including 30 of the UK's top 100, by connecting and standardising data and automating accounting processes.
This article originated from the Xero blog. The XU Hub is an independent news and media platform - for Xero users, by Xero users. Any content, imagery and associated links below are directly from Xero and not produced by the XU Hub.
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XU: There’s a lot of hype in accountancy circles about the cloud and AI. Are accountants right to be cautious about adopting new technologies?

CF: I don’t think accountants, or any sector for that matter, can avoid the cloud or AI for much longer. Data is exponentially growing, compliance demands are becoming more onerous and there’s a new generation of worker who expects technology to make their job easy. It’s a context that can’t be ignored.

I’m still surprised by the number of firms not making use of the cloud to collect and share client data. We know there is a ‘capacity crunch’ in accounting that impedes company growth as well as stifling professional development and adding to stress.

The cloud can play a significant role in helping ease this pain, streamlining processes, improving accuracy, and removing repetitive tasks that often lead to human errors. With live, standardised data accessible to your entire firm from anywhere in the cloud, it’s a footing for adopting AI and reaping the benefits.

Cameron Ford, UK General Manager, Silverfin

XU: Can accountants really take advantage of AI?

CF: Any industry can use AI to become better at what it does and how it does it. Think of it as a tool to help automate tedious jobs, improve performance and be your best. Also, it’s not a technology just reserved for largest firms or those that are synonymous with the tech sector.

There are examples all over the world that show how AI can be used to improve staff and client satisfaction. I’d recommend learning from them and ‘borrowing’ tried and tested models. Look for ways to use AI to prove the concept first and build from small gains towards bigger ones

XU: What’s the most important consideration for accountants when moving to this new world?

RF: Getting your data quality ready - thinking about where it sits, how it's stored and accessed should be a priority for all firms that want to thrive.

The whole data story is the gateway to enabling AI and taking advantage of the productivity, efficiency, and profitability it brings to your firm.

Russell Frayne, Director of Transformation, Gravita

XU: Is that why you chose Silverfin as one of your AI partners?

RF: Working with Silverfin puts us into a very different position, when compared to other partner technologies. One of the big reasons I’m an advocate for Silverfin is the way in which it becomes the unstructured data aggregator and can slot into our existing stack with open APIs. It’s a process and methodology that’s so vital for success as the platform pulls everything together into one space, where teams can easily collaborate and seamlessly do their day job.

XU: Can you explain how that aggregation pays off?

RF: Yes, take the example of when we're doing working papers and accounts. Silverfin is pulling data from different sources in different formats, and it's unifying it in one place. You can then pull so much more insight from that unified dataset.

XU: Can you highlight some key features of Silverfin that your customers find most valuable?

CF: If you asked any of our clients how Silverfin is transforming their business, they’d say it’s created speed, consistency, capacity and opportunities to thrive.

Silverfin game changers:

  1. Accelerate account preparation with Silverfin. Clients quickly harness the power of live data connections, remove the ‘copy, paste, roll forward’ data operations and benefit from the ease of consistent single entry efficiency.
  2. Create capacity with Silverfin Assistant. Analysis of client files is automated, saving hours checking files and even helping to train junior staff as they work through the flagged anomalies.
  3. Streamline manager and partner reviews. Enhanced control and consistency is highly valued by clients. With Silverfin, they can make efficient side-by-side comparisons and teams can collaborate in real-time.  
  4. Next-level staff-client communication. The information you need to do your job is all at your fingertips. Nothing is missing, teams have audit trails, and can interact and work together where the work happens.

XU: Can you give us a real-life example of the technology in action?

RF: We have trained everyone on Silverfin Assistant. It’s fantastic for junior staff as they’re doing their day job with an Assistant on the side of the screen to prompt and guide them.

It will tell you what it's looked for, why it's identified something, and what the information is telling you, with full background information as well. Not only is this great for training, it’s freeing up more experienced accountants to spend more time with clients.

XU: Can the role of accountants evolve with advancements in technology and software like Silverfin, or will the sector shrink?

CF: Nothing, including AI, is going to make accountants redundant. What technology can and should be used for is removing human errors, repetitive tasks and tasks that can be automated such as roll forwards. This makes work more interesting and fulfilling because people will have a chance to work more directly with clients.

Our AI is trained on financial data, so it not only improves consistency, compliance and throughput, but it also works with accountants to spot trends and create more profitable advisory opportunities. It’s a strategic shift in terms of what work is done and how, but it’s also a cultural one, made much easier by the AI technology backbone. I believe this will change the perception of accountancy being boring and make it a more attractive sector to join.

XU: How can firms ensure people are excited by the future and not scared?

RF: This is about mindset. The truth is, if you make yourself replaceable, you will be replaced by AI in the future. That might seem scary, but we're in control of that destination. AI shouldn’t be about replacement, it’s about enhancement.

We’ve got so much time back from using AI to manage structured, aggregated data and automate the processes that were previously manual. We’ll use that saved time to have more regular and useful conversations with clients. We can really help them understand their business, their goals, their needs - rather than just focusing on compliance. Plus, we’re becoming a firm accountants that clients want to join because of our approach to technology.

XU: Do you have a top tip for introducing the concept of AI to teams?

RF: If you want to be a tech enabled, tech led firm you need to get the hearts and minds of your firm engaged. You need buy-in from the bottom up as well as top down and the trick is achieving harmony and a balance between the two.

I strongly recommend focus groups, with people who can become the champions as that sort of stuff matters too. With the Silverfin rollout, I spent a lot of time with people to help them understand why Silverfin was being adopted and the difference it would make to them as individuals and as a firm

XU: Can technology partners take a lead on this?

CF: It’s all about partnership. We might sell technology, but we know it’s the people in a firm that will use it - or not. We provide every customer with a dedicated customer success manager because all change is hard. The most successful implementations are with firms that communicate their vision and identify the processes that should change before embarking on the transformation.

XU: How can firms protect their data and compliance obligations during a significant programme of change?

CF: Moving to the cloud and becoming smarter about data security is a goal you should always have in mind.

Concerns about compliance can’t be dismissed, but they can be managed if you take an approach that it’s done in an organised and secure way. For some accounting firms, the mere thought of migrating (client) data to the cloud conjures images of data breach nightmares. But moving to the cloud is actually the smartest move in terms of data security.

Cybersecurity risks often stem from outdated and – hence – vulnerable systems. While cloud-based solutions from Software-as-a-Service (Saas) providers like Silverfin, offer enhanced security compared to traditional on-premises setups.

XU: Is there a best practice approach you recommend?

CF: No two firms are the same, so they should choose their technology partners carefully, in line with their strategic goals and technical capability.

Cameron's checklist for finding the right tech partner

  • Do they have a proven track record of success? Look for case studies, and references.
  • Do they share your vision and values?
  • Do they have the necessary scalability, support services and flexibility to suit your workflows and objectives?
  • Are they actively involved in research and development with a track record in emerging AI trends?
  • Are they willing to listen to your unique challenges, and involve key stakeholders in decision-making processes?
  • Are they capable of guiding and training your workforce so the value of AI is realised?

XU: What would you say to a firm hesitating about going down this route?

RF: Investing in AI and the cloud to modernise is no longer an option. It’s now a must-do for profitability and growth. It won’t be long before the gulf between those firms that are tech enabled and those that aren't will be very apparent, and I’m certain that clients will gravitate to the leaders. Above all, use the experience of others - with the right partner, technology and culture, anything is possible. You won’t look back and wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

Why leave it there?

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