Chances are, you’ve read at least one article that presents automation as a huge threat to accountants. One that suggests “the robots” are going to steal your job.
In reality, automation isn’t a threat — it’s an opportunity.
By freeing accountants from simple, time-consuming, and therefore highly automatable tasks, it positions you to play a key role in strategic decision-making. Accountants who embrace automation stand to make themselves more valuable to their business than ever before.
What exactly is automation?
In a nutshell, automation involves minimising or fully eradicating human involvement from certain activities.
Those activities are often basic, transactional tasks that take humans a lot of time to complete, but could be accomplished by machines in just a few seconds. General examples include:
- Data entry
- Scheduling appointments
- Sorting emails
- Completing online forms
- Backing up data
However, automation can also be more sophisticated. Machine learning allows automation tools to effectively take control of more complex tasks, or even entire end-to-end processes, and use past experience to make decisions independent of any human involvement.
How prevalent is automation?
Automation is often discussed as if it’s an advanced future technology that will change our lives in the next few years.
But that’s simply not the case. Automation is already here. If you’ve ever used a tool like Calendly to schedule a meeting, or spoken to a chatbot, or auto-completed an online form, you’ve benefited from automation.
Today, more than nine in ten organisations are using automation to perform key tasks and processes, with 73% saying they are “very” or “entirely” satisfied with the results and benefits they’ve enjoyed since implementing automation.
What does automation mean for accountants?
There’s no getting away from the fact that automation is a threat to some parts of the accounting role.
By design, it will reduce human involvement in routine, transactional, time-consuming tasks such as:
- Compliance work
- Data entry
- Payroll services
But, as we explained at the start of the article, this isn’t a threat to accounting as a whole. Indeed, by reducing involvement in these basic, labour-intensive activities, automation gives accountants the bandwidth to focus on actions that add genuine value, such as:
- Advising clients
- Forecasting the future
- Providing strategic insight
Automation isn’t about making humans redundant. In fact, four-fifths of businesses say automation is most effective when it complements human employees, rather than replacing them.
Particularly at higher, more strategic levels of business, humans are irreplaceable; technology can’t (and may never be able to) match their ability to build relationships with key stakeholders, think outside the box, and make strategic decisions.
How can accountants adapt to the new, automated world?
Accountants who view automation as a threat will struggle to adapt to the changing nature of the role.
Meanwhile, those who are able to seize the opportunities it presents and position themselves as true business partners will find themselves in great demand.
To fall into the latter camp, accountants may need to differentiate themselves by acquiring new skills. These are some of the most important:
- Communication: Often devalued as a simple “soft skill”, communication is critical to becoming an effective part of any strategic decision-making unit. Strong communication skills allow accountants to build relationships with key stakeholders, ask smart questions, and form intelligent, easily understood responses.
- Strategic thinking: Freed from all those time-consuming transactional tasks, accountants can now look to the future. But without the “comfort blanket” of a regular, repeatable list of tasks, they must be able to think strategically to understand how they can add the most value.
- Technical understanding: As new automation solutions come to market, accountants must identify those that will offer the biggest benefit to their business and clients.
- Anticipating future demands: The world is changing fast, and automation is only a small piece of a much larger puzzle. Accountants must keep abreast of current trends to anticipate the actions they should be performing now, and in the future, to generate maximum value for their business.
If you're looking for career opportunities in the accounting field, or need great talent to round out your team, contact the experts at Richard Lloyd to find out how we can help.