Upskilling required by firms to offset ‘threat’ of accounting automation

Upskilling required by firms to offset ‘threat’ of accounting automation

The UK job market could shrink by 30% in the next decade due to automation , new research suggests

Upskilling required by firms to offset ‘threat’ of accounting automation

Accounting firms must respond to the quickening pace of automation in the sector by adapting their approach to skills development and service delivery, according to Russel Frayne, head of UK digital accounting solutions at Azets.

Frayne argues that “significant investment” will be required to offset the “prominent threat” of innovative technologies.

“I believe in the not-too-distant future, as the challenge dawns on smaller professional services firms, the capability to go it alone will not be feasible in what will be a very competitive marketplace.

“More consolidations, acquisitions and blended services will be more prevalent in order to benefit from economies of scale and more mature operating models of larger firms.”

Frayne’s reaction follows a recent study by Arden University which suggested the professional, scientific and technical activities is set to lose over 760,000 jobs to automation and technology by 2030.

The research, released as part of Arden University’s ‘2030 Workforce’ Report, also found that 30% of all jobs in the UK could be eradicated due to automation.

Strategic advantage

“Upskilling is most urgent,” according to Carl Lygo, the university’s CEO and Vice Chancellor, going on to describe this as a “key priority” for businesses.

Firms must, therefore, conduct GAP analysis to take stock of where their capabilities are currently and where they need to be, suggests Frayne.

This will allow firms to assess “where they need reskilling or recruitment of new skillsets into the business”, he says.

However, he also argues that firms can conceive “opportunities to develop and grow outside of the traditional accountant career path”, suggesting that roles such as project managers, change managers and data analysts may be more applicable to accounting firms now than ever before, and may represent a strategic advantage.

“These news roles are emerging in practices much like my own, where embracing the technology and new advances in ways of working can define a USP.

“[These] are all roles many traditional professional services firms would not have considered necessary but add a framework to support and deliver these transformative changes.”

‘Machines need humans’

But while the advancement of accounting automation will necessitate change among firms, a balanced and considered approach must be adopted, says Jon Dawson, partner at Moore Kingston Smith.

“It’s about achieving balance. You don’t want the shift to remove the human touch entirely, [but] automation and technology present an opportunity for firms to evaluate both how they interact with their clients and how they deliver their services.”

Based on this, firms need to have “an evolving technology strategy adaptive to the pace of change”, Dawson says.

“Standardising data capture, making sure systems talk to each other and providing a good client interface are areas firms can focus on today, which frees up the human side; time for advisers to talk with their clients and understand where they need help solving problems.”

This is echoed by Frayne, who cites “the three P’s” (people, process and platform) as a blueprint for future-proofing a professional services firm.

“Machines need humans, and the profession needs people – I think we can all agree on that.

“You need to assess where the strengths are in using automation and using human involvement, working with technology should be the focus, not working against it.”

But while Frayne acknowledges that accounting automation will eventually transform the sector, he goes on to note that firms can take control of and leverage this technology rather than being at the mercy of it.

“I am confident that the change will be incremental rather than a big bang, allowing firms to plan and adapt.

“How we use technology in our professional is largely in our own hands rather than being determined by the technology itself.”

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