A 2018 PwC report on the impact of automation highlighted that in the short term, jobs linked to the finance and financial services profession, along with insurance, communications, professional, scientific, and technical services would be particularly vulnerable to redundancy. Automation of simple computational tasks and analysis of structured data would affect data-driven sectors such as these thereby affecting those employed by the sector.
Despite increasingly sophisticated machine learning algorithms being available and increasingly commoditised, it is these more fundamental computational job tasks that will be most impacted first. While this may sound ominous, the question is: is this doomsday scenario as bad as it sounds? And can it be reversed? Let us explore this important existential man versus machine question.
The undeniable fact is that the volatility of the digital world is significantly more complex than the preceding non-digital world when maintaining a competitive edge was more manageable. The continuously looming threat of the next wave of digital disruption threatens to undo the very temporary hold a company has on its vantage point. This chaos and on-going disruption are altering organisations’ decision-making capabilities and keeping CXOs on their toes. This is an indication that much of the automation of the future will most likely be driven by new, smaller, more nimble businesses that will challenge and even replace the status-quo of established companies that find it harder to embrace change.
Businesses are keen to consider how successive waves of AI-related technologies will further break down barriers to entry in their sector and challenge existing business models. Among other things, AI and automation will allow businesses to offer the same proposition in a more cost-effective way, something that small to medium-sized businesses and start-ups would heartily welcome.
But this transition is even more meaningful. As algorithms replace human capacity to carry out simple rational decision-making processes, it will make more sense for firms to reduce running costs by automating basic accountant positions with minimal human oversight. So, for example, for a bank or an insurance company, automation would take over credit scoring and loan applications, where complex algorithms can both approve applications or flag complex cases up the chain of command to human managers for a final call.
In many places, financial service organisations are using automation for:
- Bookkeeping platforms that import a person’s bank and credit card transactions;
- Payroll tools that calculate employment taxes and automatically deposit them;
- Tax preparation software that fills out tax returns for people based on existing information;
- Purchasing and expense bots that ask employees the necessary questions, forward the data to the approver, and issue a virtual card upon approval.
Over the next decade, the focus on economic governance will be characterised by new thinking, experimentation and debate over alternative models for managing global systems. The goal will be to try to evolve a new financial architecture, governance framework and regulatory approach. Any new model must be capable of managing a complex global economy in a fairer, more efficient and transparent manner. These changes will require an unprecedented level of vision and coordination among policymakers, central bankers, standard setters, legislators and private sector financial institutions around the globe.
The training agenda is going to be influenced by the sheer scale of change anticipated within the accountancy profession, coupled with an equivalent set of transformations underway in higher education. Together, these suggest that both the curriculum and delivery methods for training tomorrow’s accountants will evolve significantly in the decade ahead. Both the core accountancy curriculum and continuing professional development programmes will be affected by the need for accountants to play an increasingly strategic and entrepreneurial role within the firm.
The cultural and language requirements for operating in a global environment will also have an impact on in-service training. As technology penetrates ever further, accountants will need to acquire a deeper understanding of how to deploy intelligent systems to the best effect. Key here will be learning how to manage and exploit the “big data” that sits at the heart of the modern firm. Core accountancy training and continuing development programmes will need to be reviewed and updated on a regular basis to reflect the changing expectations and needs of both the business and the profession.
For accountants, the challenge will be two-fold: firstly, understanding how the key forces shaping the future can affect the organisations and industry ecosystems they serve, and secondly, how they can use these changes to re-emerge as vanguards within successfully leading their organisations into the future. As for organisations, they will need to understand how these forces will challenge, re-shape and revitalise the functioning of their different verticals –not just the finance functions but also marketing, HR, supply chain and others. Organizations need to assess the implications digital transformation has had and will have on accounting standards and processes from a sector or industry standpoint as well as from that of the finance profession as a whole.
The realization here is that every single department within an organization is impacted; from the CFO’s role and reporting standards to revised corporate governance norms, and right down to the training and development of today and tomorrow’s hires. Such measures have the potential to completely rehaul and revitalise the finance function and in the very near future; the new finance professional will be judged on the added value they bring to the organisation and the wider community. One more reason to celebrate this change, not resist it!