No profession has gone through as much transformation in the last 50 years as the accounting profession. Going from paper ledgers and pencils to modern accounting software has had a profound impact on how the work is carried out. Accounting is now on the cusp of another technological revolution that will be even more profound. In fact it is perhaps the largest change the profession has seen since the invention of double entry accounting.
If Accounting 2.0 was the use of computers to manipulate financial data then Accounting 3.0 will be the introduction of Artificial Intelligence to decide how that data is best used and how the mountain of data that has been produced can be mined to create greater insights into the business. 30% of CFO’s surveyed said that they intend to implement artificial intelligence into accounting functions. Common areas already identified for the implementation of AI include accounts payable, accounts receivable, reconciliations and period-end closing routines.
Computers are much better than humans at dull task like extracting, organizing, and structuring the data prior to analysis and auditing. Now with AI you can automate those computers to look for anomalies in the data that will bring to light unseen problems that a human audit may have missed. Machines can run thousands of permutations in a matter of seconds and now through machine learning that machine can be making it self smarter at the same time.
This is not to say that accountants will be replaced by computers. Accounting firms that have began implementing artificial intelligence into their practice have seen an increase in efficiency in their accounting processes and have been able to complete tasks with less staff but these people have not been made redundant. They have instead been transferred to work other areas where humans still hold a distinct advantage over machines. AI has already made a considerable impact on auditing and is now impacting other other areas of the accounting practice. It is expected that by 2020 many function like tax, payroll services, audits, and banking will be fully automated through the use of AI. As these machines continue to extend their capabilities there will be more areas in which they will replace human labour.
So how do you stay ahead of this technological change? The accountant of the future will be skilled at adding greater value rather than just the ability to understand accounting figures. They will play a much greater role as advisers to their business clients.
They will be skilled at helping their clients automate accounting processes and skilled at using the artificial intelligence to find better ways for their clients to run their business. Rather than making accountant redundant, AI promises to make the job more interesting with boring number crunching being handed to machines leaving more time for creativity by the humans.
AI needs to be seen as a tool and not a threat, it will free you from many mundane chores and allow you to spend more time interacting with your clients and working with them to find ways to solve their business problems.
Director of Accounting for Private Educational Institutions at Jefferson+Partners (Sydney) from 2007-2015. Founded and led Lebrau & Partners Pty. Ltd. from 2015 until now - a boutique accounting firm serving educational institutions across the Asia Pacific (both public and private, primary, secondary and tertiary institutions).
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