“The future has not been written. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves. I wish I could believe that.”
Me too, John Connor.
A recent report by the Oxford Martin School (University of Oxford) examined the expected impacts of future computerisation on US labour market outcomes – basically, which jobs, and how many jobs, are at risk due to the rise of the machines.
The authors of the paper predict that there is a 94 percent chance of an accountant’s job being automated in the next 20 years. In my opinion, they are probably right.
When I tweeted that prediction a few weeks ago, I hadn’t had time to make a cup of tea before the first interjection came in. But just think about it. If the definition of an accountant’s job is the process or work of keeping financial records, do you really think accountants will be doing any of that in 20 years?
Cast your mind back to an accountant’s office 20 years ago. You arrive in a paisley shirt and loafers in your new Holden Commodore (VR), Wheel’s Car of the Year for 1994.
This morning you tried one of those new latte coffee drinks in the paper-cups as you ask a colleague if they knew anything about this new internet thing you’ve heard about.
On your desk are Tipp-Ex, a hole-punch, ring reinforcements, a Parker pen and a calculator with printer functionality incorporated. There are more filing cabinets than staff.
Twenty years ago, accounting was as much about gathering information, transposing it and filing the data as it was about preparing it. And with that gathering, storing and filing came billable hours. Good times.
But the times they are a-changing. Gathering data now happens with a drag and a drop, an upload, or the click of a few buttons. In fact some data, like bank-feeds, just appears overnight.
Sales systems are beginning to connect to accountancy software suites. Timesheet systems connect to payroll that in turn connect to the general ledger and bank payment systems.
That Internet thingy they talked about on NBC just 20 years ago isn’t half bad, but perhaps not so much if your business is the business of collecting information, and manually entering it.
Since we launched Invitbox two years ago, I have been amazed by the rapid pace of change that I have seen in accounting firms. I have seen firms emerge that operate 100 percent in the cloud.
I have watched practices change from being traditional accounting firms (“I’ll see you this time next year”) into dynamic organisations providing business services to their clients, connecting with them weekly, and becoming an integral and valued part of business operations. And I have watched as some of their competitors who have refused to change, reduce their staff numbers in response to falling client numbers.
I have seen accounting practices entering into both formal and informal partnerships with bookkeeping companies, recognising the vital job that bookkeepers provide in the outsourcing of services to clients.
But equally so, I am still amazed by the number of accounting firms that either (a) don’t get it, (b) see it, but don’t care, (c) see it, but think that it won’t affect them any time soon or they just procrastinate. And I am equally amazed by the number of firms (albeit a small number) that still spread fear about functionality, security, speed, uptime, disruption, unsuitability of cloud software. They continue to put their own self-interests ahead of the interests of their client.
Three years ago IBM’s supercomputer, Watson, beat the two most successful contestants of all time from the game show Jeopardy.
Computers like Watson are now diagnosing patients and performing surgery considered too difficult for humans.
If Watson was able to beat Jeopardy’s best players, don’t you think that in 20 years it could be taught to gather and prepare your financial accounts, prepare tax returns and offer advice? It’s not open-heart surgery after all.
The future of accounting may not as yet have been written, but it is being written as we speak. Software engineers working in the field of artificial intelligence and data mining are writing it, though they probably don’t know it.
Twenty years ago Microsoft introduced “auto-fill” into Excel. Today, Invitbox auto-fills your purchase ledger. And in the next few months BankFeedMe will auto-fill your bank journal.
Where do you think auto-fill will be 20 years from now?
Roger is CEO of Invitco, a cloud service that extracts data from supplier bills to import into accounting systems. A version of this post first appeared on the Invitbox blog.
Image credit: Milk the Franchise