What is an Accountant? It Won't be the Same Tomorrow.

“There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.” – William Shakespeare

Increased Technology Demands

In the age of cryptocurrencies, artificial intelligence, data scraping, and advanced analytics, the accounting profession finds itself at a similar crossroads. Decades after shedding the “numbers” stereotype (at least internally), the industry will once again rotate on its axis, a technological one.

“There was a day when there was a full-time position to calculate depreciation,” said Ryan Sells, an assurance partner at the public accounting firm of EKS&H, LLLP, at the 2017 AICPA Healthcare Conference. Depreciation02

“Now that is something we can put into a system and it spits it out in five minutes. We don’t need someone to spend their entire day doing that. Clearly, we are looking for different kinds of workers with a more technology focus.”

Sells isn’t alone. Last week, Deloitte released an article regarding a “framework for understanding the future of work.” In it, a prediction that technology would reshape every job. Do the benefits of such a transition outweigh the costs?

Mark Belfance, a Managing Partner at the accounting titan EY, sees it as a positive for both clients and employees. “When you take away the mundane, we get the opportunity to give our people differentiated experiences and they become those business advisors sooner. That’s what our clients want.”

Education Gap

Employers are raising expectations on the technological aptitude of their new hires, but the concern is that the educational curriculum in colleges and universities isn't keeping pace. 

When asked about the potential gap, Belfance said, “For us, of course across many different practice groups, about 40% of the people we hire are non-accountants, as a firm. We are looking outside of traditional education programs.”

“When we do look at schools, we work with schools to create a different curriculum, a different programmatic experience for the students that gets them just outside of the accounting program. It is going to get them elements of law, elements of engineering, and elements of analytics. It is going to be slow. It is going to be really slow. But it is coming.”

Belfance might be accurate in his assessment, but in a world in which the worldwide management consulting firm, McKinsey&Company, estimates that 86% of current accounting jobs are susceptible to automation, really slow isn’t nearly fast enough.