If artificial intelligence (AI) still sounds like a scene from the matrix, you’re not as ready for the future of accounting as you think. AI is becoming more mainstream than we realize. Bank tellers and cashiers at retail stores are being replaced by automated machine processing and the first McDonald’s that is completely free of human employees is set to open in Texas.
I can now download “ask AI” to my phone and request a 1,500-word essay be written on the varying species of hippopotamus should I choose. So why would accounting be any different?
Historically, technology has played a key role in not just the elimination of, but also the creation of new jobs over decades of time and across a wide variety of industries. Nearly every discussion around the future of the accounting profession counts technology as a key component of what the profession will look like in the years to come. Firms who are not embracing technology changes and advancements are no doubt already behind.
Accountants can take a positive outlook on technology by focusing on how jobs will change instead of focusing on how they will be eliminated. Current team members need to ensure that their technology skills are staying sharp and up to date. Decision makers in firms are responsible for keeping their finger on the pulse of new technology and writing firm budgets that allow for those advancements to come into the practice.
While data entry positions will start to trend toward being obsolete, there is an increasing need for data analyst positions and business analysis. Historically, this is not a traditional service offered by accounting firms but increasing demand provides an opportunity for accountants to add services and insulate against job elimination from technology changes.
Businesses often need help to interpret their financial data and help them to better understand what it means for decision making purposes. If accountants are spending less time on tedious tasks like data entry, it affords us the opportunity to be more strategic advisors, which historically also is a more profitable service to firms.
Historically, technology has played a key role in not just the elimination of, but also the creation of new jobs over decades of time and across a wide variety of industries.
So how do you keep your practice from falling behind and experiencing job elimination? Before hiring for new positions, first assess whether or not you have exhausted all your opportunities to improve efficiency through technology before hiring for the role. It also can help to look at what your most profitable services are.
Typically specialized things like consulting, business strategy projects and high level executive services or tax planning provide the biggest profit margin. In those cases, look also at your processes of how you provide that service.
Are there any parts of the process that can be automated using technology? Doing so can help free up time for your most skilled staff members allowing them the opportunity to take on more of those high margin projects.
Regardless of personal, political or other views of AI, it is a technology that’s here to stay and designed to only improve in the future. Embracing it early on within our practices helps to set us up for success in the future and can help prevent the unpleasant surprise of job elimination.