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AAT: Accountants ‘not afraid’ of automation

21st Jun 2017
Freelance journalist
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The majority of accountants see automation as an opportunity rather than a threat, according to a new report.

Automation such as machine learning and artificial intelligence is likely to accelerate the trend for accountants to spend less time on audit and compliance and more analysis in near real-time of clients’ finances, with more accountants charging a fixed monthly fee, research from the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) suggests.

Some professionals worry they will be replaced by software, but most accountants believe automation is more of an opportunity than a threat. About six in ten (58%) AAT members said they were ‘not very’ or ‘not at all’ concerned, according to a survey of more than 400 accountants.

Those surveyed said that processing invoices, administering payroll and bookkeeping will be the main elements of accounting to become automated within the next decade.

There have been previous predictions that much of the annual audit will be automated due to technology such as machine learning that can sample and analyse huge amounts of a company’s transactions. However, AAT members said that automation will not affect the audit of financial information, tax planning and advising senior management.

‘More management accounting’

Brian Palmer, tax policy expert for AAT, told AccountingWEB that automation would accelerate a trend for accountants to analyse clients’ financial data almost in real time, rather than once a year, three to four months after the end of the tax year in April.

Palmer commented that online cloud technology and plans to digitise the UK tax system by 2020 will enable accountants in all industries to do more management accounting.

He also said that more accountants will move to changing a fixed monthly fee rather than invoicing for separate services such as audit, IT advice, management accounting etc.

Other experts have been less optimistic about automation’s likely impact on professional jobs.

Earlier this year, Carl Frey, co-director of the Oxford Martin programme on technology and employment at Oxford University, predicted that 35% of jobs in the UK were at risk from automation.

Accountants and auditors are among those professions most at risk, with a 93.5% probability of their jobs being computerised, Frey told the Sunday Times newspaper.

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