Artificial intelligence has finally leapt from the pages of science fiction novels into the real world. Every day, we learn of new uses for machine learning and natural language processing, and it seems we’re on the path to a techno-centric future. But there’s also a downside. To hear some experts tell it, human workers are being usurped by machines one industry at a time. A recent estimate suggests 38% of jobs in the U.S. could be automated within 15 years. What does this mean for accountants? Well, it’s not clear yet. This post won’t make wild predictions about artificial intelligence or the future of the accounting industry. But it will help you think proactively about the ever-evolving workforce.
What Does AI Mean for the Future of Accounting Careers?Here’s what we at BVOH Finance & Accounting Search have observed about AI and automation so far:
1. If it can be automated, it will be.Companies are automating low-skill, repeatable tasks that don’t require human judgement and intellect. Data entry is a prime example. Decision-makers prefer to “outsource” such processes to machines so employees can tackle more complex responsibilities. That’s why tasks such as tax preparation and telemarketing face a near 100% chance of automation. Some firms have been slow to adopt automation software, either because they’re intimidated by the technology or because they lack motivation to undertake big transitions. But as accounting automation tools become increasingly affordable and user-friendly, more businesses will integrate them into their processes. If your company hasn’t introduced automation yet, now is the time to prepare. Review your responsibilities and identify any that a machine could do. Data entry, reconciling numbers, and and even scheduling are all ripe for automation. That’s not to say you’ll stop doing those right away. But you’ll want to invest your time in higher-level tasks and skills because those will increase in value even as automation becomes a significant part of your workflow.
2. Emotional intelligence will rise in value.If automation terrifies you, remember that it presents a great opportunity. When you don’t have to worry about data entry or processing invoices, you can focus on the more interesting and challenging areas of your job. Remember, automation works well for predictable and recurring tasks. But the meat of your work — meeting with business partners, working through complex accounting problems, helping them strategize — remains a task for humans and humans alone. Companies need people with analytical skills and a high degree of emotional intelligence (EQ). A machine can file papers and gather data, but only a trained accountant can advise clients with tough decisions. Instead of posting transactions, you’ll be analyzing them to offer meaningful insights and recommendations. Automation presents an opportunity for accounting to become a more rewarding, enriching career space.
3. There’s never been a better time to invest in your education.Despite what automation enthusiasts may lead you to believe, the so-called “rise of the machines” will likely happen on a long timeline (if ever). The chances that you’ll arrive at the office tomorrow to find that your duties have been halved by a computer program are slim. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be building new skills. If automation becomes prevalent in your department, you’ll be ready to pivot into a new role. Even if it doesn’t, you’ll have become more valuable to the organization and may earn new opportunities because of the skills you develop. So what skills should you be learning? Improving your analytical abilities is always prudent. Automation or no automation, the ability to offer thoughtful, clear-minded commentary is always at a premium. You can take business and financial analysis courses through a traditional college or university, or you might enroll in online programs. Sites such as Coursera, Udemy, Udacity, and edX provide a wealth of courses from leading schools that you can complete on your own schedule. Another opportunity for improvement? Professional communication, particularly verbal skills, in the workplace. As the value of human interaction and business partnering goes up for a finance person, the importance of our communication skills continues to grow. Currently, many accounting & finance people are solely focused on improving their analytical skills, but communication skills, leadership training, managerial training, EQ, etc. are all areas to focus on as the workforce evolves. Going back to school may seem daunting when you’re working full-time and have personal obligations as well. But studying for even a few hours a week can put you well ahead of the automation curve and your peers. No one can predict with certainty how AI will change different industries. Rather than getting spooked by automation, seize this opportunity to be forward-thinking about your career. You may find yourself drawn to a new and exciting path you wouldn’t have considered otherwise. At the very least, you’ll be a stronger accountant than you were before. Remember, too, that you’re not alone. Our team at BVOH faces similar questions about what AI and automation mean for recruiting and how our jobs will change. People in every industry are grappling with the same questions, and no one has clear answers. But the one thing we all agree on is that the people who keep their skills sharp and their expertise relevant will come out on top — no matter how our industries change.
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