How Automation Is Changing the World of Accounting

Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) are currently revolutionizing jobs in almost every industry-even ones thought previously untouchable by automation. The world of accounting is largely numbers- and data-driven, making it an excellent candidate for improvement via automation, but how exactly is this industry changing, and how should you be preparing if you’re interested in an accounting career?

Key Changes to the Industry

Accountants and bookkeepers are among the jobs most likely to be replaced with automation in the coming years. But what sources of automation are there to concern yourself with?

  • Templates and adaptable formats. First, we’re seeing the development of a bigger range of templates for invoices, purchase orders, and other forms. Accounting software developers are getting their hands on more in-depth data about how accountants use their materials, and they’re using those data to create better products. Adaptable, customizable formats greatly reduce the amount of time accountants need to spend on recordkeeping, and streamline the accounting process-especially when they’re available digitally.
  • Data entry and analytic improvements. Other companies are pushing the boundaries of how automation could handle data entry and analytic improvements. Assuming you’re able to gather some pieces of data automatically, such as the payments made by your various clients, you’ll have access to much more detailed insights, including payment patterns and direction for your high-level budgeting strategy.
  • Reconciliation and auditing. Account reconciliation and auditing are somewhat repetitive processes, which makes them excellent candidates for automation. A sufficiently sophisticated algorithm could easily spot red flags proactively, drawing the attention of a human analyst to a problem area. If the data are organized efficiently and in a way that the algorithm can “understand,” it would also mean the algorithm can reconcile accounts much faster than a human could.
  • Digital assistants. Though still in their infancy, virtual digital assistants also have the power to transform the accounting industry. In some cases, this assistant can make recommendations based on its understanding of best practices, spotting errors proactively, recommending different templates, and providing information on local tax codes or other regulations. Assistants can also automate certain actions, like sending invoices or compiling reports, ultimately saving time-and replacing some responsibilities entirely.

How Accountants Can Prepare

If you’re currently an accountant or if you’re preparing for a career in the field of accountancy, there are certain countermeasures you can take to ensure your job isn’t threatened by automation.

  • Become familiar with new technology. Most of the new automation and AI-based technology in the accounting space is designed to improve the efficiency of certain job functions, rather than replacing the person executing those functions entirely. If you can learn how to use these tools effectively to enhance your job performance, or if you can learn how to design and improve these tools, you’ll face a much lower threat from automation.
  • Focus on high-level strategy. Algorithms are exceptionally good at performing repeatable, predictable sequences and tasks, but they aren’t especially good at coming up with creative solutions to tough problems or thinking high-level about the tasks they’re accomplishing. If you focus more on high-level strategy and creative problem solving, you’ll render yourself somewhat unreplaceable.
  • Diversify your skills. You can also reduce your susceptibility to being replaced by automation by diversifying your skillset. Algorithms often specialize in one key area or are good at a cluster of responsibilities. If you’re capable of doing a wide variety of different accounting-related jobs, you’ll be well-protected if and when one of those algorithms threatens your main role.
  • Sharpen your people skills. Digital assistants and emotion-simulating robots do exist, but they’re still many years away from equaling the people skills of a human being. If you spend more time improving your own interpersonal skills, and focus on the conversational or social aspects of the job, you’ll have a much lower chance of being replaced.

If you’re in the accounting industry, you don’t need to worry about losing your job to machines just yet. While the industry is certainly changing thanks to new technologies and automation, these changes are bound to roll out gradually. If you’re looking ahead to these changes, you’ll have plenty of time to adapt your skillset, familiarity, and outlook to ensure you don’t lose your job to them. Automation won’t replace jobs outright as much as it changes the jobs that currently exist, so the people who are most adaptive to those changes will stand to succeed.

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn’t know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.