For and Against – Lifelong learning is essential.

When I joined BT 15 years ago, we had lots of clerical and secretarial support, but now we have very little. We can all type quickly, and email and the intranet save a great deal of time. Most managers will ultimately be unnecessary too, and accountants will be among those affected.

The internet notionally allows us to fragment an institution into its component parts and reassemble it using the newest tools. The tools available now, and in the near future, will allow us to automate a large proportion of tasks, streamline authorisation lines and disintermediate the management infrastructure of a company. Some companies won’t be needed at all, since this fragmentation and re-assembly will occur at an industry-wide level, not just within a company.

Restructuring could be profound. For organisations that aren’t making physical objects, the changes will be even larger. Virtual companies will keep key staff with top level skills, others will be bought in on a project.

We need ideas creators, assimilators to package ideas into products and, when people still don’t buy them, we need expert marketers.

The elite will thrive in such an environment, often working for several companies at a time with high rewards. But the bulk of people will be commodities, with a global supplier base. There will be enough work to ensure that most people are employed, but work will be volatile.

For accountants, it will mean constant re-skilling and lifelong learning to keep up with the next generation of electronic tools.

Advanced artificial intelligence tools will mean that juniors will be able to do work that may have been too difficult previously. While some may look at this as de-skilling jobs, it is equally validly up-skilling the person. A junior clerk may be capable of a middle management role.

An individual accountant will be able to produce work that may have taken an entire team.

Putting together a virtual co-operative will be possible. A group of freelancers could be brought together,on-line, to fill a market niche. The freelancers will keep the profits, with few overheads and no shareholders to pay. But the freelancers won’t be administering anything any more, they’ll be using whatever other skills they have, amplified by artificial intelligence.

– Ian Pearson is a futurologist with BtexaCT

TECHNOLOGY ADDS VALUE TO ADVICE Throughout history, dire warnings have been issued about how new technology will throw workers onto the scrap heap. Of course, some occupations have shrunk in size or disappeared, but the mass joblessness some thought computers would bring about has not come to pass. One example of this is Jeremy Rifkin’s prediction, in his 1995 book, The End of Work, that in the space of five short years ‘millions of new entrants into the workforce will find themselves without jobs, many victims of a technology revolution that is fast replacing human beings with machines in virtually every sector and industry of the global economy.’ This has certainly not proved true for the UK, where unemployment has fallen. Technology has undoubtedly reduced jobs in manufacturing, but, equally, there has been an expansion in service-based and knowledge work. As Professor Richard Scase points out, more people now work in Indian restaurants than in shipbuilding, steel manufacturing and in coal mining combined and there are currently three times as many public relations consultants as coal miners. Based on current trends, professional occupations will continue to grow with a related decline in skilled and semi-skilled manual jobs. Like all other occupations, chartered accountants face challenges posed by the development of artificial intelligence. But our future is bright, provided we adapt and continuously update our skills and knowledge and utilise advances in new technology to add value to the businesses we advise. If artificial intelligence means an end to routine number-crunching and automates other mundane tasks, that can only free up our profession to specialise in what we do best, namely offering strategic advice that fuels business growth in enterprises of all sizes, from the global giant to the sole trader. In developing our qualification, the new ACA, we have recognised the need for our members to have interpersonal skills and people management expertise, and the ability to solve real-life business problems. Adaptability and creativity will be key to surviving and thriving in the new economy. The beauty of the ACA is that it provides members with a solid foundation in financial matters and an in-depth understanding of the real drivers of business value. Come what may, CAs who qualify with us will be well equipped to harness new technology to benefit the businesses they work in and advise, leading to the creation of new jobs and a more prosperous Britain. – Michael Groom is president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales.

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