The Future of Accounting Jobs in a World with Artificial Intelligence
There is no shortage of dramatically negative headlines about the impact of artificial intelligence on nearly every industry, every career path and potentially, every aspect of our personal lives. The promise of technology like AI has almost always been about efficiency — with AI, we can have computers do in seconds what would take us hours. Despite the rising interest in artificial intelligence since 2014, automation and the push to do more work with fewer resources is nothing new for accounting.
As Accounting Today noted, the concept of automating processes like accounts payable emerged nearly 20 years ago. Traditionally, automation for these processes has relied on electronic invoices, because early computers couldn’t read paper documents. However, improvements in optical character recognition (OCR) and image recognition technology have changed the landscape of accounting automation by making it possible to use software for automating data processing, even when the data is received in a variety of formats.
While technology changes like these have never been as dire as news headlines portray them, they do have the potential to change the accounting career landscape. In a world where AI is sophisticated enough to process most of the information that accountants deal with every day, for example, there will be less focus on data entry tasks and more emphasis on accountants’ role in strategic decision-making and long-term planning. This is just one of the concerns we’ve considered in developing the online Master of Science in Accounting (MSA) program at DePaul, by integrating practical accounting exercises with theoretical knowledge—with these skills well-developed, we are confident that the outlook for accountants is positive.
The Future Outlook for Accountants
Although artificial intelligence made considerable leaps in the past several years, these advances have not damaged the growth of accounting jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 10% growth (faster than average) for accountants and auditors from 2016-2026. The growth is at least partially due to the complexity of the job, which includes many responsibilities that AI is unable to do—skills like making strategic business decisions and understanding a complex regulatory environment remain in high demand for accountancy.
While news stories like this one like to pit artificial intelligence and accountants against each other, the future isn’t either AI or human accountants. It’s both. Like other automation technologies (e.g., cloud computing), AI will change the focus of accountants’ roles. As Forbes Technology Council Member Mike Galarza suggested in a 2017 article, the rise of AI will create more value for accountants who develop their interpersonal skills, such as their ability to communicate complex requirements and develop strategies for their clients.
“Accountants should evolve to become business advisers and strategists who help drive long-term business strategy — making sense of complex financial infrastructure and interpreting increasingly fluid tax law,” Galarza wrote.
Of course, remaining competitive in a highly dynamic job market is not without its challenges. The exponential advances made in the technology sector will require that accountants continue to develop not only their key domain skills, but also understand and stay current with the technology disruptions likely to impact their work.
The Future of Accounting Technology
One of the major changes to the accountancy profession as a whole is likely to be how services are valued and priced. Because manual tasks are also time-intensive, many accountants price their services based on how long they take. Amy Vetter, CPA and Technology Innovations Taskforce Leader for the AICPA’s Information Management Technology Assurance (IMTA) Executive Committee, argues that automation technology will push accountants to price services with a more value-centric model.
This suggests that the value of data entry-related tasks is likely to go down while the value of accountants’ insight and recommendations will rise. A report from The Association of Accountants and Financial Professionals in Business suggests that this is actually an opportunity, arguing that accountants are uniquely positioned to be change agents who drive the direction of technology investment for their organizations. The report also identified the top technologies likely to shape the future of accounting, which include:
- Mobile accounting
- Big data
- Artificial intelligence and robotics
- Educational technologies
- Cloud computing
- Payment systems
- Digital Service delivery
While the report cited above focuses on accounting for business, many of these technologies will have far-reaching effects across the accountancy profession. For example, all accountants could benefit from keeping an eye toward digital service delivery, whether this takes the form of engaging more clients online, leveraging secure cloud storage services for clients to share documents or another innovation that enhances the client experience.
How to Future-Proof Your Accounting Career
Like other professions affected by AI, accountants will need to transform the way they position themselves and communicate with their clients. Given the growth in AI and other advances, modern accountants will be driven to become more tech savvy and position themselves as strategic partners for their clients and their employers. Below are a few key skills for staying competitive and better serving clients as artificial intelligence gains more traction.
1. Gain Practical Accounting Experience Backed by Theoretical Context
One of the key skills still missing from artificial intelligence in general is the contextual awareness to determine the best response to a given situation. For example, AI may be able to process thousands of documents within a few minutes and identify quantitative trends, but AI can’t yet make recommendations based on this information. Accountants equipped with analytics and AI, alongside an understanding of accountancy practices and knowledge of their organizations, will be able to fill this gap.
We feel especially passionate about this skillset because it is critical to the way we’ve built the curriculum for our online MSA. Extensive accountancy domain knowledge will always be essential, but the future of accountancy will also make it important to think beyond completing a rote set of tasks. Instead, all accountants should push themselves to understand the “why” element, and challenge assumptions as to whether their current approach is the best one for their organizations or their clients.
2. Develop Communication and Business Skills
As the accountant’s role becomes more focused on decision-making, strategy and planning, there will be a premium on communication and business skills. In addition to being able to look at quantitative data through a strategic lens, communicating recommendations such as why clients should follow a particular course of action will be a powerful asset in the future of accounting careers. As Robert Half noted in 2018, communication skills are important to employers who are looking for “accounting professionals with a collaborative personality, an executive presence, conflict management and adaptability.”
3. Cultivate a Curious Mindset
Curiosity is an important trait in any dynamic environment as it creates a tendency to ask questions, understand challenges on a deeper level and challenge assumptions. Because technology innovation is not necessarily a primary part of accountants’ role, it can be easy to miss important changes in the tech landscape.
Curiosity can help solve this issue by empowering accountants to look at new technologies as opportunities to enhance their work. Of course, professionals should still be critical of new software, including artificial intelligence. Over-zealous adoption of technology can lead to a lot of wasted money. However, not all innovation should be brushed off as a passing trend, and asking important questions about how you could utilize something new for your practice can help you stay ahead of AI-fueled disruption.
About DePaul’s Online M.S. in Accountancy
DePaul’s online M.S. in Accounting is designed to be both practical and forward-thinking. By developing the practical skills to be successful as accountants from day one, our graduates can immediately advance their careers or enter into highly competitive jobs. Our program is taught by faculty who have achieved the highest levels of education in accounting, finance and law, and are experienced accounting practitioners themselves.
In addition to building proficiency with high-demand accounting skills such as auditing, our program offers students the opportunity to develop critical thinking skills and knowledge of accounting principles. This empowers our graduates to take on more strategic roles within their organizations, offer more value to their clients and adjust to industry disruptions like those caused by technology.
We leverage our connection to industry leaders and promote an environment where students can find mentors, build their networks, leverage leading CPA prep services and graduate with skills they can use to push themselves further.
To learn more about DePaul University’s online MSA program fill out the fields below to download a brochure. You can also call (800) 950-0232 (toll-free) or (312) 676-6438 to speak to one of our admissions advisors.
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