The Future of the [Accountancy] Profession — Doom or Zoom?

I have been re-reading Richard and Daniel Susskin’s “The Future of the Professions” — this is a tough read for a chartered accountant, believe me!

You kind of get the gist from the title that it is about the prevalence of technology and emerging artificial intelligence etc and how this will automate much of the traditional accounting work leading to the demise of human experts (the book is about “the professions” so I am afraid you lawyers, consultants etc are all caught in the same (leaky) boat!).

It is a real wake-up call and is quite timely with recent announcements from the likes of cloud accounting giant Xero that it now intends to double-down on AI as their next big milestone (having just surpassed one million users). Uh-oh! Throw in the — constantly increasing number of — add-on software providers that help automate the processing of data at the front end (e.g. ReceiptBank et al) and you can start to see how the traditional “bread and butter” accounting work is being swallowed up.

Meanwhile in the UK, the tax authorities are currently seeking to “make tax digital” which, over time, will likely further side-line the accountants’ role as the authorities seek to (force) relationships directly with smaller business owners — a scary prospect indeed.

So is the the writing on the wall for the role of accountants…?

Well, I don’t think it’s entirely all doom and gloom. In fact, quite the opposite.

The prospects for “carrying on as we always have” look bleak; but in all honesty, I wonder how many accountants would put their hands up and say they actually enjoy the drudgery of annual compliance work??? Not many I suspect. Many accountants will welcome this lift from the lower value processing work as more time is released to invest in exploring the interesting and potentially life-changing stuff (!) for business owners.

Many accountants will welcome this lift from the lower value processing work as more time is released to invest in exploring the interesting and potentially life-changing stuff (!) for business owners

Such as helping clients actually understand their numbers (a novelty, I know!) and review how they can grow revenues, profits, cashflow and ensure they’re maximising all available tax incentives — as well as finding more time to do the stuff they enjoy both inside and outside their business.

So rather than emerging technology being the “death-knell” of the professions, perhaps we should view technology as the key development we have been waiting for that will eradicate the time-consuming, low-value processing and compliance work. A gift rather than a curse.

Maybe I am being too “glass half full” as I have no doubt that, over time, AI and machine learning etc will start to encroach on the higher value advisory services too — but I still see an important role for the trusted (human) advisor for a long while yet. In my view, there is something about (real humans) sitting together in a meeting, exchanging ideas and exploring possibilities together that would be difficult for a machine to replace.

In my view, there is something about (real humans) sitting together in a meeting, exchanging ideas and exploring possibilities together that would be difficult for a machine to replace.

My belief is that the emergence of technology will be a positive for the accountancy profession overall and, more importantly, for the business owners they serve.

Do you agree?

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