Accounting and Automation: Is the Job at Risk?

As with many industries, automation has gradually become commonplace in accounting. While automation and artificial intelligence (AI) might streamline simple tasks, enable qualified professionals to achieve more than ever, and allow the accounting field to reach new heights of innovation, some professionals worry that their positions are at risk. Learn how automation factors into accounting, and discover whether accountants should fear or embrace AI.

How Automation Has Disrupted Data Entry

Accounting automation at work.

For most accounting firms, adopting automation in key areas allows for better cost management and greater accuracy. Data entry was one of the first areas to integrate automation, as the tasks involved can be relatively straightforward and mechanical. Because data entry can suffer from human error, this area has also had the opportunity to benefit from the improved accuracy automation typically delivers.

According to CNBC, the accounting industry is not alone in automating many of its data entry tasks. As the news outlet reports, data entry tends to be one of the lowest paid positions in any industry, which means it has been the most susceptible to automation. While data entry might no longer be a viable career option for accounting professionals, those with experience in data entry might have the opportunity to apply their skills to related data management tasks or higher-level positions.

How Automation Has Streamlined Bookkeeping

Although automation has eliminated many of the data entry needs related to bookkeeping, accountants in this position typically need to balance automated tasks with skilled work. In fact, professionals in this occupation are likely to find countless opportunities to improve their work and gain additional experience while integrating automation into their workflows.

As Bernard Marr writes in Forbes, bookkeepers and accounting clerks might be able to take their invoicing tasks to new heights, thanks to AI. While many accounting firms have long relied on automated invoice creation, accounts receivable and accounts payable clerks often have to record outlier payments, categorize invoices, and produce customized follow-up invoices manually. As AI learns from their input, this technology might be able to process and categorize invoices more quickly and accurately.

In addition, automated applications might soon be able to manage routine bookkeeping tasks such as bank statement reconciliations. Most bookkeepers do this manually, but industry experts foresee automation streamlining this task while bookkeepers apply their skills to higher-level tasks, such as following up on line items that AI cannot easily reconcile.

How Automation Has Decreased the Need for Administration

While accounting firms still maintain a strong need for high-level management and strategic administration, automation has begun to decrease the need for low-level administrative positions. As Nick Chandi elaborates in Forbes, accounting firms that once employed many administrative assistants and office managers might increasingly find that they no longer need as many employees to provide standardized communication to colleagues and clients or to conduct basic office management tasks, such as paying bills or ordering supplies. Instead, automated programs can handle payments and orders and AI can learn how employees reply to standard messages and create appropriate communication in response.

Although low-level administrative staff members will likely need to integrate AI into their daily tasks, high-level administrators will tend to interact with AI in very different ways. Accounting executives are more likely to find that they are tasked with researching and investing in the industry’s most advanced AI to ensure the firm’s success.

How AI Could Improve Auditing

Auditing tends to require more specialized human input than many other areas of accounting, so automation has not eliminated this essential role. However, advanced AI applications have introduced new levels of ease and accuracy to auditing tasks.

As Marr discusses in Forbes, over time, AI programs could learn the details of a company’s policies. These specialized applications could then apply that information as they analyze reports and other documentation for compliance. For instance, AI applications could process expense reports, confirm they conform to company policy, and even automate employee reimbursements.

Like most auditing tasks, this could never be completely automated. Instead, experienced employees could work side by side with their AI counterparts and provide nuanced interpretations, necessary oversight, and final decisions.

How AI Could Enhance High-Level Accounting and Finance Skills

The balance between human interpretation and automated processing that the auditing field demonstrates serves as a telling example of how AI could continue to enhance accounting and finance skills in the future. As these applications develop greater capacities to handle simple automation and learn increasingly nuanced information, they can take on more of the burden of basic accounting tasks.

While this gradual change might eliminate some low-level accounting jobs, it has the potential to open even more doors for senior professionals, especially those with a master’s degree in accounting. After all, AI experts with strong knowledge of the accounting industry understand that automation has the potential to streamline the industry, but groundbreaking technology isn’t likely to put high-level jobs at risk. Instead, automation’s growing role requires accounting executives to excel in their leadership positions while developing a strong sense of AI’s potential and using it to guide the organization toward success.

In addition, embracing AI enables experienced accountants to free up time and mental resources so they can focus on high-level tasks. Rather than responding to inquiries or crunching numbers, accounting executives can rely on AI to process data, produce reports, and even generate analysis. With that information in hand, high-level accountants can better assess risk, make smart strategic decisions, and lead their organizations more effectively. As the potential uses of AI for accounting only appear to be expanding, accountants who learn how to make AI work for them are the most likely to achieve ambitious objectives.

Automation and AI are undoubtedly changing the face of accounting, but senior professionals in this field typically still require graduate-level education and advanced skills and experience. Visit the School of Graduate and Professional Studies to learn whether the New England College – Master of Science in Accounting Online could open doors toward an exciting, technology-focused career in accounting.

 

Sources:

http://www.cnbc.com/2017/07/19/half-of-american-jobs-are-at-risk-from-automation-new-study-suggests.html

https://www.accountingtoday.com/opinion/does-automation-mean-job-losses-for-accountants

https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2017/07/20/how-ai-is-reshaping-the-accounting-industry/#6d23995037f3

https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2017/07/07/machine-learning-artificial-intelligence-and-the-future-of-accounting/#637632ff2dd1

https://www.firmofthefuture.com/content/impact-of-data-automation-on-the-accounting-profession/

http://blog.docuware.com/document-management/automated-accounting-starts-with-these-four-processes