Accounting professionals provide tax preparation, bookkeeping, auditing, financial planning, and business advisory to individuals and small businesses.
The profession’s biggest challenges are…
Staffing, succession planning, tax reform, cybersecurity, merger mania, commoditization of core services, the demand for more CPAs, and the search for relevance─ as important as all these issues are to accountants, they pale in comparison to two overarching concerns in the minds of the profession’s leaders: “the impact of new technologies, and accounting’s ability to adapt to the rapid pace of change.”
In a recent Accounting Today survey of a wide range of practitioners, firm leaders, association heads, regulators, consultants and other thought leaders, those two concerns─ new technologies and accounting’s ability to adapt─ were most frequently cited as the biggest challenges facing the profession.
“Massive shifts in technology like data automation, blockchain and artificial intelligence are ushering in what some are calling the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ and others (perhaps more accurately) are calling ‘the Transformation Economy.”
The concerns aren’t limited to the potential for technology to commoditize core services like the audit, bookkeeping, and tax prep (though that certainly worries many); they also encompass the potential for those services and the entire role of accountants to be radically reshaped.
“Technology’s exponential advancement is impacting the profession in profound and unprecedented ways.” “Artificial intelligence, cognitive computing, blockchain, and even more mainstream technologies like cloud computing and social media are transforming what accounting and finance professionals do─ and what they need to know. Our very existence depends on our ability to learn the skills that will let us work side-by-side with the machines and do the things they cannot yet do.”
There is little question among accounting’s leaders that advancements in technology were setting the pace, and that the profession needed to do its best to keep up.
“The relevancy of the accounting profession in the next decade will be largely impacted by how capable we are at visualizing and harnessing the potential benefits of new technology, and how willing we are to make the changes necessary to take advantage of the enhanced technology of tomorrow,”
“Many accountants think it will be a slow change, but because it’s an exponential change curve, it will suddenly be here and people aren’t going to be ready. We need to start getting ready to use these technologies now by better understanding risk and controls (especially IT risk) and data analytics.”
“All of this change related to technology and artificial intelligence will affect small firms and require close monitoring.” “With resources limited for small firms, it could affect their abilities to audit clients and thus further diminish the pool of auditors available to provide services to smaller clients in an economical manner.”
“In short, accounting firms are primarily using technology to reduce costs and increase productivity, instead of leveraging technology to get better at doing what clients want most─ providing proactive insight, analysis, and guidance.”
“Technology can replace people, and it is; you can see it in hiring trends and in per-partner incomes. But technology cannot replace the judgment and wisdom that clients really want from their accountants. This techno-centric behaviour is pushing aside the client-centric habits that have made accounting the great profession it remains today. The profession does so at its peril.”
In the face of all this technological change, the profession needs to double down on better serving clients and to move up the value chain in terms of the services it offers.
“The challenge is to switch our roles from that of compliance worker to that of the knowledge worker and consultant. By utilizing all of the new digital tools of AI and big data to advise clients, we can give them the knowledge they can use, as opposed to just giving them back work products to meet regulatory requirements.”
Either way, most agree that accounting must embrace technology to offer higher-value services─ but that may require capabilities they don’t have.
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[Curated content based on excerpts from posts, blogs, media articles, and sponsored research]