It's not a reality—yet—but accounting software is poised to eliminate accountants. We are at a tipping point for many similar professions: online education replacing professors, legal software replacing lawyers. As threatening as this sounds to professionals with many years of education and experience invested in a single field of expertise, the phenomenon of new technologies disrupting the workforce isn't a new concept.
With such a radical technology disruption, there's always the same cycle of debate: outrage, denial, compromise, and defeat. Ironically, accountants are instrumental in consulting with software developers to create the very technology that will replace them.
Of course, accounting software isn't new to the accounting profession, and in fact, it has become very useful for many accountants. Even tax filing software hasn't put accountants out of business. But changes are on the horizon that could likely empower accounting software users to the point when they don't need accountants any longer, and reduce the process to a turnkey program anyone could follow. Again, automation is a common disruptor. Read about how automated cars are closer to reality than most believe, and how that is set to shake up the industries associated, especially insurance.
The latest evolution for accounting software has been in products moving into the "cloud." Some software packages, like QuickBooks Online, offer certification programs, which help set accountants apart as the go-to professionals, but others seem to compel users to do more of the accounting themselves. This act of moving accounting online doesn't precipitate the end of accountants. However, what does push accountants to the margins is how inexpensive and user-friendly the new online accounting software is. Check out FreshBooks, Xero, and Wave, for example.
If that's not enough to instill fear in a well-educated accountant, think about how the Uber app has shaken up the taxi business, and how AirBnB is threatening the tourism industry. Giving consumers a way to do something effectively themselves for cheaper, and with ease, is a recipe for a paradigm shift.
Accounting software won't replace accountants all at once, just like universities won't disappear once Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) become the standard fare, and there will be exceptions, just like there will likely always be students who think it's better to pay an amount that exceeds any reasonable ROI to obtain a liberal arts degree in person. Some exceptions will likely outlast predictions, especially for CPAs who play a critical role in large publicly traded organizations, for example, that need credentialed experts to conduct audits and sort through other complex regulatory issues.
Automating accounting for small business owners and entrepreneurs won't be a bad thing either, as many would prefer to have turnkey programs to handle the grunt work of a task that once cost a good bit of a start-up's small budget. Financial advisors will still have a role to play in helping entrepreneurs decipher the numbers, but it's likely the software will come more complete with better industry standards, and give feedback on the financial health of the business being monitored.
OK, we're had our say, you have yours—the debate is open.
Jonathan Poston directs business development for BooksSetup.com, a virtual online accounting software set-up service for entrepreneurs on the move. It helps entrepreneurs choose the best accounting software for startups, then support its set-up and management.