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No Room for Fear of AI, but Embrace the New Era

Nov 9th 2017
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Let’s all pause for a moment and take a break from the relentless claims that robots and artificial intelligence (AI) will be the demise of accounting professions. They won’t. That’s not to say they won’t dramatically change the ways in which accounting professionals work or the skills that will be valued in the future, because they will.

Pages of history, both recent and long ago, unveil countless examples of invention and innovation threatening to wipe out entire professions. Quoting novelist Pearl Buck, “If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.”

Yet, throughout history, technology innovations have always created more jobs than they have destroyed. The lesson here is that while AI and machine learning are likely to replace many aspects of the accounting profession, there is room for greater career opportunities. They just may look different. For example, machines can’t replace the emotional intelligence (EQ) needed to drive automation. Humans need to be involved in key decision making that robo-advisors or AI won’t be able to accomplish.

Randstad Professionals is experiencing its own set of challenges as automation creates a learning curve for us as recruiters. We are constantly adapting to the latest human resource technology to comprehend the data it provides and to bring the best accounting talent to our clients. We are also ensuring our internal accounting team is up to speed with the proper learning and development training to accomplish workloads more efficiently with technology. However, despite the wave of digital transformation, we still hold a sense of integrity in the overall fundamentals of accounting. 

More Disruption on the Horizon

By now, just about everyone has likely experienced the changes brought on by automation, cloud computing and big data. It’s time to turn our attention to the transformations that AI and machine learning will have on the profession. Why is this advancement so disruptive? Because while automation, cloud computing and big data were largely aimed at making transactional and other tasks easier, AI and machine learning will require accounting professionals to re-think business processes. These emerging technologies don’t just automate — they use algorithms to interpret data, make decisions, and allow us to better predict outcomes.

From Number Crunchers to Value-Added Advisors

AI and machine learning show great promise in aiding accounting professionals to better serve and deliver more value to their organization or to clients. As machines begin to take charge of repetitive tasks, accountants and bookkeepers will have more time to leverage their experience and industry knowledge to analyze the data, and ultimately provide better recommendations for their clients.

Areas such as auditing, risk management, regulatory compliance and trend analysis all stand to benefit from AI and machine learning. These technologies will quickly uncover insights and trends from large, complex data sets that can influence a vast array of operational and strategic decisions. These capabilities will also allow accounting professionals to deliver high-quality, reliable predictions and in many cases, real-time benchmarking to help clients or businesses gain insight into how they stack up against peers.

And, let’s not forget the fact that machines can’t replace emotional intelligence — a key function and value that accounting professionals deliver. Human interaction, interpretation of intangibles, explaining complicated tax forms or financial infrastructures, and knowledge application are all areas that can’t be duplicated by empirical data or machine learning.

Embracing the New Era

Now that you know you have the power to shape the future of accounting, what can you do about future-proofing your career? The simple answer is to learn, adapt and evolve your skills beyond those that are subject to automation. And, you need to start now.

  • Learn to predict the future of your specific field. Accounting professionals will need to capture new opportunities brought on by advancing technologies as they emerge. In order to do this, you will need a deep understanding of the developments impacting your career, and identify the specific areas that may be subject to automation so that you may develop a niche or emotional intelligence skills that will become in-demand. Consider what human aspects will remain needed in your field. Then, hone in on the ones you already have and acquire the ones you don’t.
  • If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. If you find that a majority of your current responsibilities may be candidates for AI, you may want to consider switching gears to develop an expertise in the technologies most likely to take them over. For much of the accounting work steeped in quantitative or repetitive tasks, that means machine learning. Gaining skills in programming, maintaining or fixing machine learning technologies will allow you to combine your existing expertise to work alongside machines.
  • If AI isn’t up your alley, become an expert ASAP. If the idea of building an understanding of machines’ inner workings seems too far-fetched for you, begin now to establish yourself as a top expert in your field. Even for jobs that are at high risk from automation, there will always be a need for industry experts who can interpret data, and advise on newer algorithms that would be more beneficial.

Grab Some Shades, Your Future is Bright

The accounting professions aren't for the weary. They are arguably among the most challenging professions made up of skilled workers who have a history of adapting to change. The future holds the potential for uphill battles, but it also promises to bring exciting, new opportunities for your career. And, as mundane tasks go away, dare we say, more fascinating?

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