There’s plenty of talk – both positive and negative – about how technology will affect the world of work, and whether entire industries will be made obsolete by automation. Certain accountancy-related roles are said to be some of those most at risk, threatening to leave some accounting professionals out of a job. However, our members tell us that the future should hold no fear for accountants, so long as you keep updating yourself with the right skills. This is a view we expressed at a recent conference, titled ‘Being Global: future-proof your career in accountancy’.
AAT surveyed accountants and bookkeepers to look at the future of the profession. Three things were identified that will have the biggest impact on accountancy, including automation, where simpler tasks are done automatically, cloud computing which is changing the way data is stored, and new developments in accounting software.
60 per cent of the accounting professionals we spoke to said that they believe basic accountancy processes will be fully automated within the next five years, but were not concerned by this, with 89 per cent saying that advances in technology are a positive for accountancy. Three-quarters also said that the technology they have started using already has either made their job easier or freed up time for them to concentrate on adding value for clients, for example by analysing accounts and giving business advice. The results of the survey seem to show that accountants are welcoming new technology and incorporating it into their work.
The best way to ensure that you are able to deal with new technologies is to keep your skills refreshed and up to date. The professionals who will be in trouble are those who don’t move with the times and who assume that the next twenty years in work will be the same as the previous twenty years. Change is already taking place – it’s an accountant’s job to look at how things are developing, then move with the times.
In the past, some might have expected to only learn in their late teens and early 20s, maybe at university, then not do much more learning again for the rest of their career. This will not be possible for anyone who is just starting out or in the early part of their career. Instead of just the one spike of learning in your late teens and 20s, there will be smaller spikes of learning at other stages in life, where you will be learning for your next assignment, or next job, or next stage in your career, or simply how to apply new technology that has broken through.
Because more basic tasks will be taken over by technology, professionals will need to understand how to add value for their clients in other ways. Future accounting professionals will need to be data analysts, and be able to tell stories with numbers, not just calculate them. Technology means that data will be more accessible quicker and also be available to a bigger group of people, but accountants will need to be able to interpret it.
The accounting profession has been embracing technology since the abacus, and people have been saying accountancy is under threat since the invention of punch cards in 1930. However, despite the fact that there probably will be some big changes to accountancy ahead due to new technology, these incoming technologies will probably not end the profession now, and will not prove a threat to those who remember to move with the times.