Automation can bring about huge improvements and efficiencies. However, for those whose jobs may be affected, this technological advancement can be a double-edged sword. According to the World Economic Forum, over 80 per cent of business leaders are accelerating the automation of work processes due to the Covid-19 pandemic. These companies estimate that 40 per cent of their employees will need to reskill in the future. In a separate survey, from the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), 80 per cent of respondents also said digital innovation would have the most impact on future careers within the profession. Here are a few things to consider:
An increased focus on strategic and analytical skills
New technologies are creating exciting opportunities for accountants to collect, analyse and interpret data. Teams are now benefitting from software, which makes it quicker and easier to generate reports. Advantages include the ability to view financial figures in real-time, and to collect granular data – which can be used to understand exactly what is happening across an organisation and why. Finance departments can use these insights to guide on strategic decisions, adding real value to day-to-day decision-making. In the future, it is likely that accountants will spend more time on advisory tasks, thanks to the automation of repetitive, more simple tasks, which can be reliably performed by a computer.
A tailored approach, with a greater emphasis on customer service
In a study examining the effects of automation, Deloitte suggests that organisations who wish to train or reskill employees should focus on developing “uniquely human skills” – that is, those attributes which cannot be replaced by software or machinery. It may be the case that technology will reduce the time and manpower necessary to complete compliance tasks – such as bookkeeping and accounts preparation. However, finance professionals will still be needed to join the dots to complete these processes. In addition, ‘human skills’ such as customer service, relationship building and problem-solving will continue to be highly valued. Whether you’re an accountant working in-house or within a practice, it will be important to listen to colleagues and clients, providing the kind of flexible, tailored service that automation and self-service is unable to match.
An ability to advise and lead digital transformations
Accountants should not ignore the rise of automation. Instead, they should arm themselves with the appropriate knowledge needed to add a new string to their bow. Implementing new technology can be costly and complex. This places finance professionals in a unique position to add value by sharing advice, or even taking the opportunity to lead on these projects. Increasingly accountants should be able to recommend products which can simplify tasks, giving their organisation a competitive edge. By developing these kinds of digital skills, they will make sure their work remains important and relevant.
Accountants as third-party arbitrators
Finance professionals play a key role assisting and managing the relationship between the taxpayer and tax administration. In the same way as a lawyer might serve as a neutral, third-party arbitrator, accountants are also available to assist businesses – ensuring that they understand and fulfil payment obligations. This is a point emphasised by Jane McCormick, former Global Head of Tax at KPMG, who says tax systems are “not infallible” and it is hard to imagine a structure “in which there are no grey areas, no causes for disagreement and no errors”. While accountants need to think about reskilling for the future, it is worth mentioning that they will always be needed to implement, test, and guarantee reliable processes.
Automation will continue to be a trigger for change within accountancy, with finance professionals taking on new responsibilities as a result. However, we already know that new technologies are likely to create more jobs than those they displace in the long run as it expands the number of roles needed to not only understand the process, but to look after it and keep it up to date too. Within the world of finance, those able to demonstrate strong business acumen will have a fruitful career path in front of them.