Automation Will Change Duties and Skills Required of Accountants

Artificial intelligence will help the accounting industry by automating routine tasks. It also will force changes in the role of accountants and their training.  

Artificial intelligence, or computers performing tasks that previously have required human intelligence, is changing every industry. Accounting is no exception. Two ways in which artificial intelligence (AI) will transform the industry are by making life easier and changing accounting jobs.

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Making Life Easier

AI will benefit accountants in several ways.

  • AI can be more accurate in repetitive, data-entry tasks. These will mean these tasks can be done cheaper and better with computers.
  • AI will allow for scaling up the quantity and quality of data analysis; for example, it will make audits more efficient because it can count inventories or process confirmation responses much more quickly. AI even allows for real-time auditing by tagging inaccuracies in expense reports. Computers also can store data on company policies and automatically ensure compliance and consistency.
  • AI allows for faster decisionmaking because it can analyze data more quickly. AI also can use feedback loops to learn from past errors, becoming more intelligent over time.
  • AI can enhance the powers of observation because computers can detect intricate patterns in data when humans cannot.

Changing Jobs

While one calculator has predicted that 95 percent of accountants will lose their jobs to number-crunching computers, a Deloitte study indicates that as many new jobs will be created as are eliminated. In essence, accounting jobs won’t disappear; they will change. Perhaps as much as 35 percent of the skills required of accountants will be different once AI is implemented, according to Till Leopold, project lead at the World Economic Forum.

As computers do more of the repetitive bookkeeping tasks, accountants will have more time to focus on tasks such as process improvement and capital optimization. As computers can produce and analyze more data, they will create the need for more human judgment and interpretation of the data. This means that accountants will become more consultative, providing advice to clients on how to improve their business operations. Much more of an accountant’s work may be as part of a project-based team than currently.

As the essential functions of accounting jobs change, training will change as well. Leopold believes that this will lead to universities providing a more rounded education to those majoring in accounting. Classes would be offered in technology and humanities, as well as accounting principles. As accountants more often become coaches to their small business clients, they will need to develop communications and other human relations skills.

One challenge of the new technology is how to allow junior accountants to gain experience. Previously, they did this by performing mundane tasks that soon will be done by computers. To meet this challenge, companies will need to pair these junior accountants up with senior accountants so that they can develop the judgment required to advise clients effectively.

As accounting departments and firms become more dependent on AI, they will increasingly need more help in implementing and maintaining various types of software. While large corporations and Big Four accounting firms likely will hire in-house IT experts, small and medium-sized firms will probably find outsourcing this function to be more economical.