Accountants, bookkeepers and the likes are at a more than 90% risk of dying i.e. being replaced by automation. This is not additional information and in fact, the study citing above risk is from 2014 and if you’ve read some of my previous articles you would know that I have also discussed this at great length. Before we look at what accountants must do to stay alive let’s first look at what’s threatening them.
- Automation: Accounting or at least the transactional part of it is quite rules-based and can be automated. I’ve already introduced you to your robot accountant, Dixie and that’s just the starting point. All the basics will be automated.
- Outsourcing: Accounting is a support function and particularly in SMEs it could be viewed as something that’s not part of the core business and should be outsourced. To a significant extent, this has already happened and again is no news.
- Offshoring: Local staff is offshored to countries like India or China where large shared service centres are ready to take on the accounting tasks and will even allow companies to create centres of excellence that will both improve processes and production time. Again, this has also been going on for many years already.
- Cloud and mobile solutions: By moving the accounting into the cloud it will be possible for the business to do a lot more self-service allowing the accounting department to create efficiencies.
Now despite all this doom and gloom the US Bureau of Labor Statistics still predicts that there will be a significant job growth in the accounting profession! So how can that be you ask? Are they dying or spreading? Flourishing or flat lining? It’s all very confusing I get that so what’s causing the apparently expected increase in the need for accountants?
Globalisation, complexity, regulations etc.
While accounting as a basic subject is rules-based and can be automated there are certainly forces pulling in the other direction as well. Let alone the whole regulation space with Sarbanes-Oxley, Eurosox etc. makes it a lot more complicated to do accounting but on the other hand, if allowed many such controls can be automated as well. Then continued globalization with M&A across borders etc. will continuously demand accountants who know how to handle the numbers in different financial regimes. New accounting standards will also need accountants with steady hands to ensure they get implemented in the business. All the above will require that accountants specialize further from being simple bookkeepers. Then, of course, there’s the whole advisor space like finance business partnering or the Big Data space where data scientists reign supreme. Both require a different skillset though than traditional accounting and will demand that accountants get further educated.
Specialize or move up the value chain
So, the choice is simple for accountants if they want to stay alive. Specialize within your profession and benefit from complex regulations which you never know how long they will stay in place or move up the value chain either into a complex field like data science or become a great communicator of numbers to partner with business leaders to improve business results. The traditional accountant job is on its way out forced by automation and in other cases, offshoring or outsourcing so now is the time to make a choice of what to do with your career. You can follow my series with tips about how finance people can become more successful to better understand the implications of the choice you’re about to make. If you’re still sceptical of whether this is happening I suggest you take a look at my previous series about the on-going finance transformation. You can run backwards in time to companies that haven’t started the transformation yet but rest assured that time will catch up with you making the choice of how to stay alive inevitable. So, what’s it going to be?