The accounting profession is rapidly transforming, largely due to productivity optimization available through newer technologies. In the near future, accountants will no longer be burdened with task-oriented projects. Instead, thanks to the shift in dynamic accounting technologies, accounting software programs are becoming more automated and the role of the accountant is changing to that of a business advisor.
“Prioritizing investment in data-driven finance is paying off handsomely in the form of more agile operations and a repositioning of the finance function from cost center to strategic partner.”
– Saurabh Gupta, President, Research and Advisory Services, HFS Research
The role shift of the modern accountant to a business advisor requires new skill sets, including professional skepticism, judgment, and critical thinking skills. Pairing these types of soft skills with an understanding of developing technologies in accounting is exactly what many leading accounting firms are looking for in new hires. Accountants who achieve this combination will be better positioned for a highly successful career.
Emerging Technologies in Accounting
So which technologies are helping accountants progress from strictly number crunchers to strategic advisors? Here are the top 7 ways technology is transforming the accounting industry:
Artificial intelligence and robotic process automation (RPA) automate complex and repetitive tasks and processes with extreme accuracy, thereby reducing operating costs and increasing efficiency. These are some of the emerging technologies supporting the transitional role of today’s accountant into a more critical thinking role. The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) takes it a step further in their report, Explainable AI: Putting the user at the core, by stating that AI is most relevant for accountants and auditors when a user can explain its functionality:
Historically, the focus of research within AI has been on developing and iteratively improving complex algorithms, with the aim of improving accuracy. Implicitly, therefore, the attention has been on refining the quality of the answer, rather than explaining the answer. But as AI is maturing, the latter is becoming increasingly important for enterprise adoption. This is both for decision making within a business, and post-fact audit of decisions made. Auditable algorithms are essentially ones that are explainable.
A major way artificial intelligence is modernizing accounting is through its marriage with big data. Accounting firms have access to enormous amounts of unstructured data that would have previously been almost impossible to analyze. Through natural language processing (NLP), accountants can offer more accurate and valuable insights for better client outcomes.
Cloud computing is a type of internet-based computing that provides shared computer processing resources and data on demand. This allows accountants to perform tasks from any location, as well as deliver financial information and reports through the cloud. This opens up a new way for accountants to work with their clients. Now, there is more time to engage with the client and focus on business strategy instead of getting burdened with detailed processes.
One of the key ways that accountants can provide value is by sharing the numbers using methods that anyone can understand. Data visualization does just that. There are many software tools available that easily convert data into charts, graphs, tables, or other visuals that help tell the story behind the numbers and what they mean. Auditors or fraud examiners can also use data visualization to help uncover anomalies or irregular transactions that warrant further review.
No matter how many slick new tools come along, the fact remains that accountants must master Excel. It is the king of the workplace, and learning how to use it well saves time and prevents errors. Harness the power of the tool to work in your favor. Automate as much as you can. Do not hard code values into formulas. Who knows, you may earn a reputation as an Excel expert in your office, increasing your credibility and maybe even opening doors for networking with leadership.
Many accounting firms now offer hybrid schedules for working remotely, while others are even hiring non-local candidates. There is also increasing demand for virtual meetings and client engagements that allow offices in different locations to collaborate effectively and securely. As a result, becoming a master of virtualization tools can greatly improve your productivity and professionalism. You don’t need to have a home studio, but following a few simple tricks will make it seem like you do! Use those headphones, preferably with a built-in microphone. Set up a virtual background with your company logo. Practice sharing your screen on different platforms. The more you use the technology, the more comfortable it will feel during live meetings. Then you can focus on what really matters to you: the numbers.
It can be easy to write off blockchain technology as the latest business buzzword that will pass with time, but accountants don’t have that luxury. Blockchain is already being adopted into the accounting industry and looks likely to stay. It’s essentially used to record and distribute transactional data in a secure way. This gives it tremendous potential to expand in the profession as a tool to reliably track financial information.
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The Future of the Accounting Profession and Jobs
The future of accounting will see a greater adoption of increasingly sophisticated technologies. Whether AI, automation, data analytics, or cloud computing, these technologies will tremendously enhance productivity and reinforce the need for accountants to improve their soft skills. But as the accountant role evolves into more of a strategic advisor, there are several points to keep in mind:
- Technology will support accountants, not replace them
- Time management, accuracy, productivity, and security will all improve
- Accountants will be able to provide better insights
- The most effective accountants will be those who are open to change
Will accountants be replaced by technology? No, but their roles will change over time. Accountants should embrace technology to remain relevant in the industry. This includes staying up to date with technological trends, optimizing and adapting current accounting software to meet the needs of the firm, and being open to accepting and learning advanced technologies.
David Cieslak, known as Inspector Gadget, sums it up nicely: “Our value opportunity as practitioners is in our critical thinking, our ability to analyze, our ability to advise.”
It’s a new day with innovative ways to be a CPA!