From abacus to algorithms: why existing accounting skills are “less relevant”
It should come as no surprise that artificial intelligence is spearheading deep fundamental changes within the accounting sector.
Having already prompted a revolution in financial services as well as Big Tech, the buzzword AI now has its sights set on accountancy.
AI is rarely understood and technophobes read headlines about AI beating chess masters (or the fictitious Cyberdyne Skynet) and assume a very sophisticated and very expensive software will soon be sat beside them in the office. Little chance of AI joining the tea-round.
The reality is far less exciting. AI will take the monotony out of heavily manual processes where definite values are computed, freeing up human employees to tackle abstract problems where values are not so definite and often involve emotive variables. This could be one reason why software company Receipt Bank warns practices against diving straight into technology to control industry disruption.
“It’s becoming more and more realistic that AI will take over many functional services that are currently human-managed,” said Donna Bulmer, managing partner at top 15 firm Haines Watts.
“We have already seen a shift in the accountancy world with the move towards Making Tax Digital,” said Bulmer. “The skills a traditional accountant would hold are becoming less relevant because AI is doing the job quicker and with no human help. This is why a diverse workforce and multi-skilled employees are crucial to the future of accountancy.”
Where the traditional accountant would have impeccable maths, numeracy and financial function skills, the modern-day and future accountant’s role is far more diverse, Bulmer said.
“There are many positives to creating a more socially diverse workforce,” she said. “Having a collective of people with differing opinions, experience and perspectives creates a strong team who can make better decisions and fairer assessments in a work environment, be it internal or with a client.”
For Haines Watts, the accountants of the future need to have vision, strategic and communication skills. Even though using AI will be essential, understanding business owners and their aspirations and goals remain a vital skill, particularly the accountant’s role as regulatory advisors.
“AI removes the human element, the personal touch,” said Bulmer. “It’s important employees are experts at being great ‘people people’ in order to develop and expand the accountancy sector.”