Interview • 26.03.2020

Tired of paperwork? It’s time for AI!

Artificial intelligence helps small and medium-sized retailers to tackle accounting

A man in a blue shirt stands and smiles into the camera...
Source: sevDesk

Accounting - A term that is synonymous with stress for many businesses. The minds behind sevDesk felt the same way, which prompted them to develop accounting software that tackles the annoying paperwork.

In this interview, CEO Fabian Silberer talks about the AI-based approach, explains sevDesk’s commitment to small business and admits the downside to AI.

Modern retail often utilizes artificial intelligence to drive efficiency in customer interactions. Yet you focus on AI as a back-office solution. What prompted this step?

We went into business for ourselves and noticed that no matter what you do, whether it’s IT consulting, software development for online retail or brick-and-mortar businesses, everybody needs accounting. To us, it made no sense that we would send a folder with business receipts to our business tax advisor once a month and he, in turn, would have to retype something that was already available in a digital format. We knew there had to be a better way, so we set out to do something about it and ultimately developed sevDesk.

What are some tasks in retail accounting?

Retailers have to create invoices, organize receipts, enter receipts, and reconcile their bank statements. Value-added tax is yet another important aspect of retail. Retailers have to submit a preliminary VAT return every month to the tax office.

On the whole, it is crucial for retailers to know how their business is doing and identify their operating expenses. This is the only way to get a company overview. But it’s bureaucratic insanity.

Does AI play an increasingly important role in reining in bureaucracy?

You have the efficiency imperative in this case. Whether it is a large retailer, the little shop around the corner or a big retail chain: retail is driven by profit margins and must aim for long-term efficiency. Software like ours is more valuable than three accountants. At this point, AI offers many ways to improve small business profits and help companies stay competitive even on a small budget.

Arm puts folders back on the shelf.
One of the objectives of sevDesk: Fewer folders and papers in the offices of the companies
Source: PantherMedia / Andriy Popov

How does your solution help retailers to master bureaucratic chaos?

We have developed cloud-based software that leverages artificial intelligence. Thanks to AI, retailers can get organized, because it is reliable, efficient and fast. With a few simple steps, retailers can create invoices, offers, and credits. They can retrieve data using an interface and have access to their tax advisor. Accounting essentially takes care of itself based on the transactions on the account, the receipts and the invoices that are often created automatically online. Since operations are handled by large data centers, we continuously learn from our customers and subsequently optimize our processes.

Does this mean AI keeps on learning?

That’s right. The system continuously learns and adapts: Every company has its own AI, so to speak, and it learns with every receipt and every transaction and is subsequently getting better and better. AI recognizes the patterns and learns from them like a conventional accountant without the need to exchange (customer) data.

Who is your target audience?

We are strongly committed to proving opportunities for small businesses. We focus on companies that have relatively few employees, no accountant, no major IT landscape, and no data center. Our target audience includes small online stores, the shop around the corner, bakery stores, butcher shops, and travel agencies. We know that large retail companies already operate efficiently. Our software therefore doesn’t aim to support accountants, but rather help small and medium-sized companies directly. We started out with just two employees and know what that’s like. That’s why we identify with small companies.

Can you use your cloud-based technology to support other tasks like human resource management, for example?

We will soon release an option to optimize payroll accounting. This includes a data management tool, which makes it easier to manage products and inventories.

The software has many advantages, but doesn't it also help eliminate jobs?

Yes, I think we need to admit that this will likely be the case. We always have to look at the other side of the coin. At some point in the future, the accounting profession will undergo a major change or might even be replaced in its entirety. Optimized IT processes will also eliminate many other careers, including some jobs in the retail industry. Digitization will reshape the jobs of the future and create many losers and winners.

Interview: Katja Laska

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