Having worked as a specialist recruiting into Finance and Accounting roles for nearly twenty years I have seen a number of changes in practices that have had major impacts on recruitment in the Thames Valley. From the early days where European Shared Services were all the rage, to five years later where they were outsourced to Eastern Europe or India. ERP systems were implemented, organisations had to become SOX compliant and there were constant changes in statutory reporting. Throughout these twenty years, new skill sets have had to be developed to fit the needs of organisations and the way in which information is arrived at, interpreted and presented.
I am often asked by both candidates and client about the future of finance and the impact that AI may have within this field. So below I look at the question and whilst I am not professing to be an expert hopefully have some views that people may find interesting.
Artificial intelligence (AI) systems can be very powerful and are improving at pace. They provide outputs that can be extremely accurate, replacing and, in some cases, far superseding human efforts. However, they do not replicate human intelligence. We need to recognise the strengths and limits of this different form of intelligence, and build understanding of the best ways for humans and computers to work together.
Although AI techniques such as Machine Learning are not new, and the pace of change is fast, we are as of yet to see widespread adoption within finance departments. To understand what the future could hold, we need understanding how AI can solve Accounting problems, the practical challenges and then the skills Accountancy professionals will need to gain in order to work in partnership with AI.
The answer as to whether AI will reduce the need for Accountants is complex. Whilst an easy answer would be ‘yes’, it probably depends on how you chose to define “Accountancy” and “Finance”.
My view is that if for example you look at Bookkeeping which has more process-driven tasks then the likelihood is that this could be likely to be subject to automation than some of the higher level finance tasks. So transactional based departments are therefore more likely to become smaller, but remaining finance staff will then be able to focus on more strategic tasks and Business Partnering. AI will also change the world of Accountancy Practices and Internal Auditors. AI will allow more questions to be asked than those that are currently presented by auditors. However, again I feel that there will still be a need for humans to interpret the answers and put actions into place.
Another area of change is likely to be having more IT focused staff who are working for Accounts departments. It is very simple to say that AI and Technology can replace humans, but there will be a need for people who specialise in implementing and maintaining this technology to ensure it functions and adapts to the ever-changing needs of a business.
I think there will also be a demand for more Data Analysts within both Accounts departments and Firms of Accountants. It is all very well having large volumes of Data thrown made available, but without people to interpret that Data, come up with recommendations and analyse the information on the back of it, there is no point to the Data in the first place. Taking this into account, Accountants will potentially be having to explain things and interpret information therefore they will also need to become more commercial, more analytical and improve both communication skills and presentation skills so that they are able to what all the Data means.
Another concern could be that if more senior roles exist and there is more need for “specialist skills” then how do we ensure that entry level staff have gain the skills they will need to have a future in careers in Finance. We are probably too early in the development and integrations of AI in Finance and Accounting to have really thought through what changes will need to be made to ensure the right experience is gained but certainly this will need to be considered in due course.
Fundamentally I think that Accountancy roles will undoubtedly change, but I do not feel that we should fear this change. 10 years ago many of the most in demand jobs did not even exist and it is thought that children the age of my own daughter will probably end up working in jobs that do not currently exist.
Written by Miles Gallagher - Business Manager, Qualified Senior Finance