If you eavesdropped on a conversation around the water cooler at any accounting firm, you can pretty much bet that the fear of being out of a job someday due to automation would eventually come up. When we think of automation many of us have visions of a world like the one in the 1984 movie The Terminator, which portrays a dystopian future where robots and intelligent machines seize control of the world.
However, today on the Rules of Thumb blog from MoneyThumb we will help dispel any fear accountants have about losing their jobs to machines. Of course, automation is something that cannot be avoided and if viewed properly, is actually improving the accounting profession in a multitude of ways. But like anything else, we must adapt and evolve. Accountants are not losing their jobs to automation, they are just being required to learn new skills and adapt the old skills in ways that benefit their firm and private practices.
When it comes to machines taking our jobs, an optimistic view as far as the accounting field is concerned comes from a study by the Brookings Institution predicting that occupations with a high percentage of repetitive tasks may be at a high risk of automation, while those that require a high level of education-- such as accountants--will be pretty safe.
Automation in accounting has been made easier by the development of APIs, or application programming interfaces. APIs allow different pieces of software to interact with your accounting system. Before APIs, connecting two systems often required coding. Now, you can largely plug and play to create automated workflows quickly and easily.
Still, the accounting field IS being highly affected by automation, as shown below:
Robert Half’s new report, Jobs and AI Anxiety explores how technologies like cloud computing, software robots, and virtual reality are already transforming workplaces. The future will see many more automation applications that will have an effect on traditional finance jobs. Some of the technologies that will disrupt accounting include the following:
- Robotic process automation (RPA) — If you’ve ever written a macro in Excel, then you understand the basis of RPA, which focuses on automating repetitive tasks. Modern RPA tools like Kofax and Blue Prism are extremely powerful and can be used to automate even the most complex processes.
- Natural language processing (NLP) — NLP focuses on bridging the communication gap between humans and machines. It turns documents and speech into structured data and enables computers to speak or write in a way that sounds natural.
- Artificial intelligence (AI) — We’re a long way from developing AI that thinks like humans, as popularized in films such as “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “The Matrix.” Today, work in the field of AI focuses on copying human decision-making processes and executing jobs in human ways. For example, some financial firms use AI to assess risk or detect fraud.
- Machine learning (ML) — ML, a close cousin to AI, allows the software to edit itself so it keeps improving without human intervention. The software does this by analyzing vast quantities of data, identifying patterns, and using these insights to improve future performance. ML is a potent way for machines to learn and adapt over time.
Accountants and bookkeepers who are willing to expand their skills to work alongside machines and who are willing to take on more of an advisory and strategic role for business owners need not fear being part of a dying profession. In fact, automation will make accounting work more fun.
Automation means that accounting and finance departments will have fewer entry-level positions and will be leaner, but that’s a good thing since the shortage of accounting talent has no end in sight. We will finally have the opportunity to do work that’s actually commensurate with our education. Let’s be honest — you don’t need a CPA or degreed accountant if the job is just data entry and repetitive, rote tasks like analyzing credit card records for invoicing mistakes. Automation frees us to do the work that we do best — thinking, analyzing, and advising business owners and the C-suite on strategy.
Far from killing accounting, automation will make accounting a much more fun and interesting job. The image of the bookkeeper constantly bent over ledgers will become a thing of the past, making the accounting professional finally the cool one to strive for rather than the drudge it has always had the reputation for being.