The robots aren’t coming to take your jobs – but it’s time to make changes

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The robots aren’t coming to take your jobs – but it’s time to make changes, warns Simon Wright, operations director of global jobs board CareersinAudit.com

For most of us, our only reference point for artificial intelligence (AI) has come from watching films. Until now, it’s been pure science fiction, since the storyline is always set too many years in the future for us to deem a reality. Yet with a plethora of studies across many professions about the threat of AI and other technology taking over humans’ jobs, should accountants be worried?

CareersinAudit.com surveyed 1341 accountants this August, and found that four in ten are worried that automation and other sophisticated technologies will render their job obsolete in the future. This statistic rises to 50% amongst accountants aged 18-30, who’ve been brought up on all things tech.

The reality is no-one in 2016 can say how life as accountant will be in, say, 2076 or even 2036. What we can be sure of is that the role of the accountant in the 21st century has changed and is still changing. In our recent research, eight in ten accountants believe the role has changed over the past five to ten years, and nearly half are worried they are going to be left behind because they do not have the right skill set.

Before the profession surrenders to a brave new world of robots, here is the crux of the issue as I see it – it’s about today and tomorrow’s accountant and auditors having new skills, the right skills and crucially wanting to have these skills. Undoubtedly technology and automation has a place and increasingly so in the future. Yet the ‘brave new accountant’ today needs to be ready to embrace their new role and cast aside fears of being left behind.

Many used to think it was enough to go on a few courses to brush up on technical skills, but now it’s about having at the bare minimum a good understanding of technology, having a much broader understanding of commerce (perhaps even swapping over to industry if in practice), building up the softer skill set such as networking and generating new business. Plus with eight in ten accountants prepared to move abroad for work there is an onus on having a better understanding of international regulation and practices.

However, acquiring the skills is perhaps where problems currently lie.

From research CareersinAudit.com has conducted over the past seven years, nearly two thirds of accountants say that career development is not considered high on their line manager’s or boss’s agenda. Now is the time for accountants to be more pro-active and to take a hard look at where their skills deficit lies.

This includes taking time to do research, ask other colleagues and peers in the profession what courses and workshops they would recommend – be they online or face to face. If HR and senior management aren’t forthcoming with investment then perhaps it’s time to either move on or invest personal time and funds to be in stronger position for 2017 and beyond.

 

Over the next few months, Simon Wright will be writing a series of articles on building up the right technology skills for AccountingWEB.

About Simon Wright

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12th Oct 2016 16:01

Following

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17th Oct 2016 09:15

Simon,
You have missed a factor or two. A lot of what we do will be controlled by Co House and HMRC. Should MTD go through, then automation will certainly be the route we will have to take (for small business under vat threshold it would be nigh on impossible to meet accurate quarterly figures). I am keeping well up with AI (my associates son is studying AI at University) and believe me a quick human brain will be able to do "what if" scenarios a lot quicker than any AI.
Now if you had done an article about genetics and how in the future our brains could be made to "open up" so that we would become more "intelligent" then perhaps we "oldies" should be worried about how we would cope but AI - no chance.

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to johnjenkins
20th Oct 2016 15:18

I'm very careful not to say things as definite as "will" or "won't" or "no chance", because so many people seem apt to see this issue as binary - either everything is going to stay the same and accountants & auditors can keep doing what they're doing, or the industry is doomed in a generation.
The industry is going to change significantly over the next 10-20 years, and most of the tasks we do today will be fully automated. I suspect it will be similar to the changes that happened when everyone got computerized - I worked for a company in the early 2000s that still had hand-written ledgers from the 80s onsite (more for nostalgia than for recordkeeping), and the personnel records showed how many jobs went away and how many jobs changed when the company moved from writing & typing to terminals and then to PCs. I could see that my team of 6 people, with the VBAed Excel workbooks we created, replaced at least 25-30 accountants and we did more scripting and testing than actual accounting.
Next steps? A much smaller industry of regulatory experts will manage AI agents and other systems that will do the tasks. How soon? I suspect sooner than would make the "oldies" comfortable, but not quite as soon as we tech optimists predict.
I'm interested to follow this series of articles, especially after following some of the research on WaitButWhy and seeing how much the Watson team has already achieved in medicine and finance AI tools.

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to KateBlank
20th Oct 2016 15:37

Ah Kate, you're another of those that think once you have technology of a certain kind, that's it. Technology moves all ways and affects different industries in different ways. The secret is to beeeeeeeeennnnnnnnnnnd with it to see where it's taking you.
Digital technology is already out of date. We are in an advanced state of technophobia. What does that mean. It means you have high techies and low techies. That's not good. It takes years to play catchup. So it's not just the oldies who worry.
I really don't see the industry changing that much. It hasn't in the 51 years I've been in it. Oh yes instead of writing I key in. Instead of an adding machine I have a formula.

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to johnjenkins
21st Oct 2016 16:20

"Another of those..." condescending people who thinks it's okay to insult and demean people on the internet? Mind your tone. You may be (slightly) older, but that doesn't mean you should let yourself appear to be a putz.

The secret (or rather, *not* the secret) is not to let technology lead us anywhere, but to use technology to go where we want to go.

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to KateBlank
24th Oct 2016 09:08

So, Kate, you appear to be one of those people that shout "your being rude" every time someone disagrees with your point of view. It seems to be a growing culture with people that don't really know what they are talking about.
Back to the plot. Technology is only bought about by the powerful and money. So us mere mortals do not have much say as to where we want technology to go. HMRC and MTD is a classic example of this.

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to johnjenkins
26th Oct 2016 10:39

Hmmm... Grammar, spelling, and usage errors, misrepresentation of both my words and my tone, exaggeration of a clearly disingenuous opinion...

I definitely smell a troll. And as Ada Lovelace so wisely said, "Don't feed the trolls!"

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to KateBlank
26th Oct 2016 10:45

What do expect from an ex Grammar School boy.

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