Advances in technology are rewriting the rules for how business is done across all industries. In particular, the buzzwords of machine learning and artificial intelligence have sparked concern throughout the accounting profession. We’ve constantly seen predictions from multiple sources (like this study from McKinsey) that suggest as many as 800 million jobs will be lost worldwide to automation by 2030. The McKinsey study points out that the field of accounting is especially vulnerable, as “collecting and processing data” are tasks that will be done better and more efficiently by machines.
While the accounting profession navigates through disruption, I strongly believe there is a way to strike a balance between adopting new innovations and maintaining a human focus. As accountants and bookkeepers navigate these changes, they’ll uncover how to thrive long-term and see technology play out as a force for good that can impact the entire community on a global scale.
Keeping the accounting profession human
I’m of the mindset that there has never been a better time to be an accountant. For one, the accounting profession isn’t solely about data collection and processing — it’s about supporting the clients and small businesses that turn to them each day. So while technology is automating tasks for accountants and bookkeepers, it’s also enabling them to focus more on providing human guidance and customized solutions to help each business owner meet their unique goals.
By making sense of financial data and providing rich insights to their clients, accountants and bookkeepers are able to provide the solutions only a human can, and they remain one of the most trusted sources of business advice. In fact, despite advances in AI and automated accounting technology, the vast majority of small-business owners (72 percent) will continue to rely on the human advice of their accountant — beating out peers, friends and family, online communities, lawyers, consultants, and financial advisors.
Today, accountants and bookkeepers find themselves in a crucial position to change their profession. If you believe this mindset, you’ll see that accountants and bookkeepers are not at risk, but instead on the edge of a new golden age of accounting.
Moving to advisory services
In our profession, advances in AI, machine learning, and automation can become a valuable resource for accountants and bookkeepers, their small-business clients, and the broader economy. However, there is another way these advancements will impact the profession and elevate accountants and bookkeepers to become even-more-trusted business advisors.
Technology is producing a positive transformation of accounting practices by enabling firms to offer new types of services that move beyond compliance work, like basic tax filing, to more complex business advisory services. By using technology to evolve their practices, accountants and bookkeepers are in a strong position to experience growth. We’ve seen this firsthand with the accountants and bookkeepers we work with. Practices that offer advisory services earn 67 percent more revenue than firms providing compliance services alone.
These shifts in the workplace allow accountants and bookkeepers to serve as business advisors that can help small businesses navigate changes in technology and ultimately realize their potential. In these times of noteworthy tech innovation, small businesses will turn to accountants and bookkeepers to learn how to evolve their business to meet the realities of a new age.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning aren’t the next big thing — people are. The job of an accountant and bookkeeper is much more than data collection and processing, and there are things machines won’t be able to do in place of humans. Accountants and bookkeepers will remain vital to the clients and businesses they support because it’s the insights, trust and meaningful conversations they provide that will drive long-term success.
Chris Wicker is head of partner sales at Xero Americas. As part of the U.S. leadership team, he helps lead all of Xero’s partner growth channels.