The headlines certainly demand attention: “The Robo-Accountants are Coming!”, “Robots Will Soon Do Your Taxes, Bye-Bye Accounting Jobs.”
Gartner predicts that artificial intelligence (AI) will eliminate 1.8 million jobs by 2020 but also create 2.3 million jobs.1 The jobs at risk of automation are entry-level positions that have traditionally focused on executing complex but repeatable tasks: extracting, organizing and structuring data, tax preparation, reconciling transactions, posting journal entries, computing calculations and verifying data from spreadsheets.
With that work being automated and advisory and consulting work bubbling to the top within accounting firms, there is a growing need for people who possess qualities that can’t be replicated by machines.
“If your firm invests in upskilling your staff, you will have an opportunity to leverage talent in new and profitable ways.”
— Sandra Wiley President, Boomer Consulting, Inc.
Nearly every individual in an accounting firm needs to upskill their team. But what skills are required? And how can a firm effectively upskill its workforce?
Skills Accountants Need
The skills accountants need for the future fall into two broad categories:
- Augmentation skills like business intelligence and data analytics to help them succeed with AI, machine learning and automation
- Success skills to equip them to provide consulting and advisory services to clients
Proficiency in using accounting-specific software is already a prerequisite for most positions within an accounting firm. But as technology automates more tasks, an accountant’s attention will need to shift away from debits and credits. Instead, their focus will be on developing processes and controls and investigating exceptions identified by technology.
Here are some of the skills accountants will need to succeed in these new duties:
Understanding process. Technology is useless if it is not set up correctly and monitored to ensure it is performing effectively.
Communicating with technologists. Accountants won’t necessarily need the skills to code or implement systems. However, they will need to work with technology experts who may not understand accounting, auditing and tax rules. The ability to communicate with technologists to describe the data necessary to deliver the desired intelligence will be a valuable skill.
Data analytics. As technology automates more compliance-based services, accountants will spend more time advising clients. They will need to know how to analyze data for business insights and communicate those insights to clients.