Blockchain as an immutable and incorruptible ledger of different types of data finds its natural expression in accounting. Or, we could reverse the concept in that accounting is the most natural application for blockchain technology. Modern accounting is based on the double-entry system which, since the Renaissance time, allowed managers to realize whether they could trust their own books.
In the double-entry system, transactions are recorded in terms of debits and credits. Since a debit in one account neutralizes a credit in another, the sum of all debits must equal the sum of all credits. Double-entry bookkeeping allows firms to maintain records that show what the firm owns and owes, and also what the firm has earned and spent over any given period of time. Triple entry accounting is a more recent enhancement of the traditional double-entry system in which all accounting entries, including purchases of inventory and supplies, sales, taxes, utility expenses, and so forth, are cryptographically sealed by a third entry.
With blockchain, these entries occur in the same distributed, public ledger rather than in separate books, creating an interlocking system of immutable accounting records. Being distributed and cryptographically sealed, manipulating, or destroying these entries is practically impossible. Companies using blockchain triple-entry bookkeeping acquire major benefits from adoption. First, it helps auditors quickly and easily access and verify financial data, thus reducing considerably the cost and time necessary to conduct an audit. Second, it helps preserve the integrity of a company’s financial statements since an encrypted signature of the counterparty is required in order to be accepted as valid, thus drastically reducing the risk of counterfeits.
While most operations are still performed manually or, even if delivered on software are still labor-intensive tasks and far from being automated, blockchain appears as the technology needed to simplify and improve regulatory compliance, enhance the prevalent double-entry bookkeeping, reduce fraud, auditing processes and errors. In essence, blockchain technology enables complete verification without the need of a trusted party.
On 10th August, Block.co CEO Alexis Nicolaou appeared on The Future of Accounting Industry using Blockchain webcast to discuss upcoming changes in accounting along with Dr. Maria Papadaki, Managing Director at BUiD Dubai Center for Risk and Innovation and Raymond Abrea, President & CEO of Philippine Abrea Consulting Group, hosted by Legal Solutions expert and Senior Executive of CACI, Edward Logan.
Maria Papadaki has more than 10 years of experience in Risk Management from both academia and industry, with numerous years in the implementation, development, improvement, and management of risk frameworks, tools, and techniques. She believes that “Blockchain is going to introduce a new component in accounting that’s going to make the work easier. It will provide a link between the two double-entry books together in an open way and will put things in order. Auditing will also become easier while trust, fraud, and compliance issues will all become obsolete with the open and distributed blockchain because it’s hard to cheat when everybody is watching. It will reveal less human interface with immutable, accurate, and easy to verify transactions. Accounting needs to be innovated with international links between institutions, organizations, and businesses”.
Raymond Abrea, based in the Philippines, is also Co-Chair of the Ease of Doing Business (EODB) Task Force on Paying Taxes and the brainchild of the TaxWhizPH mobile app. He was recognized as one of the 2017 Outstanding Young Persons of the World. “As a tax consultant, I choose integrity over profit with our game-changing strategy to do what is right and help the client pay the right taxes while pushing for genuine tax reform as an important contribution to the nation-building of the Philippines”. “I am not a blockchain expert — continues Raymond — but someone who will benefit from it and as a company we collaborate with various institutions to help implement blockchain to fight corruption, fraud, more errors, and so forth. Tax compliance review, tax audit, and assessment will all gain efficiency with the blockchain thanks to smoother processes while saving time and money. It normally takes about one month to go through all the procedures of tax registration and payment before it’s all approved by the government, and we believe blockchain will cut that time considerably.”
So, do accountants need to fear for their jobs?
Whenever new technologies appear, there is widespread worry among different sectors that jobs might be impacted and specific professions are abolished. As webcast guests repeatedly affirmed during the event, blockchain will surely disrupt accounting in that both professionals and clients will be offered safer and more immutable records while making processes easier and faster but the responsibilities of accountants will largely remain intact. Auditing will also be disrupted with the disuse of paper trail documents and the adoption of encrypted key data verification supporting financial statements, thus reducing costs and time for the audit payer. Also, regulatory compliance can be verified more efficiently.
Alexis Nicolaou has over 25 years’ experience in C-suite positions in Accountancy, Finance, Electronic Banking, Electronic Banking Software, Media, and he currently also serves on the board of Directors of Grant Thornton Cyprus’ Distributed Ledger Technologies business unit. “I am an accountant myself and one thing accountants should not worry about is that they would lose their jobs with blockchain. On the contrary, their jobs will evolve and will be enhanced. As all entries in blockchain are distributed and cryptographically sealed, it is virtually impossible to destroy or manipulate that information. This so-called triple entry bookkeeping model will be accessible to all relevant parties. The auditor, the regulator, the client will all have an identical copy of the ledger at all times; it will be distributed across a peer to peer network of nodes and shared in multiple sites”.
Despite having all the information agreed by all parties and timestamped in the blockchain, businesses will still need to hire good accountants to interpret and categorize that information, and they will have to implement and maintain the system. So, no, the accountant’s job is not at risk. As the info is secured, encrypted, and transmitted to a network of members, accountants will be able to provide more real-time advice and guidance to the client and their role will actually be more consistent. “The future accountant will need to be more skilled in IT and not just with numbers” carries on Alexis.
Block.co has introduced electronic correspondence and filing for a while now, and that translates into a major reduction of costs, paper waste, and time. It all started in 2014 when the University of Nicosia began to issue certificates on the blockchain. They anchored the fingerprint of that document (certificate) on the blockchain. They then shared it with their students, and all a student had to do when they went for a job interview was to present that PDF file, while all the employer had to do is drag and drop that PDF file.
“Many businesses — continues Alexis — shy away from electronic archiving systems but using a blockchain makes it possible to prove the integrity of a file and the way we do it at Block.co is by generating the hash, a fingerprint of that file, and timestamping it on the open and public Bitcoin blockchain. We developed a platform where all we have to do is drag and drop a PDF file and this can be done with any type of document, an invoice, a legal document, a medical certificate. I remember back in the ’90s, when I started the profession, everything was much longer and burdensome because it was done on paper. This is what I mean when I say that the accounting profession needs to evolve and embrace more IT skills in order to stand up to the competition with other more innovative companies.”
During the webcast, Raymond asked a compelling question about how will blockchain be implemented. Will it be powered by governments or by private initiative? Since the Philippines started adopting digital systems, they still have issues with government compliance, therefore any technological innovation takes a long time to be implemented. “In Dubai for example — advises Dr. Papadaki — blockchain adoption is mandated by the government which makes everything easier. They are driving all initiatives to report improvement and adapt it in an excellent way. I think Cyprus is going that way too, therefore, it ultimately depends on the individual country”.
Alexis, also, believes that it’s extremely important for the government to be on board. Malta, for instance, was the first country to introduce legislation concerning blockchain and Cyprus is following suit and their initiative has been particularly successful because local governments actively participated and promoted the adoption of the technology. “Private institutions are running it but to have a global acceptance governments will need to embrace it too. Governments have come to understand, especially during the pandemic, that we need to push innovation in technology so hopefully, this will put pressure on them to adopt blockchain more quickly”.
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