Wednesday, 22 June 2022, 5 minute read
The New York Times’ article, “The Robots Are Coming for Phil in Accounting”, contends that it's only a matter of time before robots take over the accounting profession, along with other traditional “white-collar” jobs that we previously thought were safe from automation. The article tells a scary story of robots who promise to “[streamline] operations” and “[liberate] workers” from monotonous and repetitive tasks but eventually replace professional jobs altogether.
Moreover, consulting firm, McKinsey, predicted that 45 million US workers would be displaced by automation by 2030. But are accountants really in danger of being replaced by “digital workers''? Or is this just the latest case of luddism and fearmongering – the modern-day equivalent of Aristotle’s concern that self-playing harps would make musicians obsolete?
In this article, I’ll take a look at the true threat that robots pose – and the one advantage human accountants have over them.
Human demands in a digital world
So-called “digital workers” can do a lot of work that humans typically do - such as inputting data into systems and making calculations. However, I remain optimistic as, for one, robots cannot communicate in the same way that we can. They lack empathy and emotion as well as many other “soft skills” which accountants need when giving advice to clients.
Rather than fearing replacement by bots, accountants can use the latest technology to improve their workflow and refocus their time on building relationships and providing insights for clients to act on. After all, meeting with clients and translating data into decisions is something humans are uniquely primed to do – and something robots cannot adequately replicate.
Furthermore, according to Accounting Today, the demand for Client Accounting Services (CAS) or advisory offerings, is on the rise with the latest Client Advisory Services Benchmark Survey from finding that CAS practices “grew at a median rate of 20%, almost two times as fast as the 12% reported in the 2018 survey”. So, offering advisory services certainly serves a growing demand.
While this is obviously helpful to clients, it’s helpful to accountants too, as you can generate increased revenue by offering more complex services and spending less time on lower value tasks.
Wondering how to shift into advisory services? You might consider the proactive approach – providing up-to-date forecasts and understandable visualizations of financial data.
The importance of forecasting
It’s crucial that businesses work with financial projections, irrespective of the size of the business. When you create forecasts for your clients, you can help them to:
Apply for bank loans;
Re-evaluate their business’s strengths and weaknesses;
Anticipate potential issues;
Take stock of their position; and
Figure out how to grow their business by turning their goals into key performance indicators (KPIs) that they can measure and track over time.
Setting targets to evaluate regularly can be very helpful when it comes to determining which areas need improvement to enable business growth. As the Harvard Business Review was already arguing in the 1970s:
"Sound predictions of demands and trends are no longer luxury items, but a necessity, if managers are to cope with seasonality, sudden changes in demand levels, price-cutting maneuvers of the competition, strikes, and large swings of the economy."
For a forecast to be effective, you need to consider multiple different factors – often over a long period of time. Syft’s 4-Way Forecast can help you out here! The 4-Way Forecast is a powerful tool that allows you to create an integrated forecast across the profit and loss statement, balance sheet, cash flow statements, and KPIs. This forecast ensures that all financial statements are linked; any impact to your profit and loss statement will carry through to the balance sheet, cash flow statements and KPIs (and vice versa).
Pro tip: For more information, take a look at our 4-Way Forecasting Guide.
You can also link non-financial data to your 4-Way Forecast, which can help you gain greater insight into your business, its challenges, and its true potential by considering progress in terms of customer requirements and indirect, quantitative indicators of intangible assets (such as intellectual capital or customer loyalty).
The benefits of visualizations
When it comes to providing business advice to your clients, it’s worth considering that many people are not numerically-minded. Software like Syft can help you when it comes to generating clear visualizations that are easy to unpack. As Suran Moodley, Managing Director at Ariston Global, says,
“In the advisory and financial space, it’s not about getting a report or getting the numbers or compliance. Yes, you have to do that. But the important thing is getting usable information in a format that you understand so that you can make the right decisions in your business…”
For Ariston Global, providing businesses with actionable information is key to what they do and the true value lies in the interpretation of data. Suran says that the more visual option of presentation is crucial because “[a] great proportion of clients are able to see trends and understand them better through graphics than they would by looking at numerical relationships.” It’s clichéd but true: a picture is worth a thousand words – or numbers.
Keep tech as a tool, not a competitor
The accounting landscape has changed dramatically with the addition of smart technology, but there’s no need to panic. Musicians weren’t replaced by self-playing harps as Aristotle feared they would be and accountants won’t be replaced by AI either.
However, the more repetitive aspects of their jobs will be – and this is cause for celebration.
Accountants are beginning to play a new role – the role of the advisor. And it’s never been easier to move into this position than at a time in which apps like Syft and Crezco exist to help automate data analysis, forecasting, and payments. With all these tasks taken care of, you can now focus on uniquely human initiatives such as meeting with clients and translating data into decisions.
About the author
Alex Hoffman is the Engagement Manager at Syft Analytics. She is in charge of Syft’s content strategy across all channels, the BeyondAnalytics blog and Knowledge Center, and the written elements of Syft Campus (launching soon!). Alex enjoys creating helpful, educational, and entertaining content to help you make better business decisions, stay on top of all things Syft, and fill you in on some of the latest trends in the world of tech, business, and beyond.
Alex is also currently completing her Master’s in Creative Writing. In her free time, she's a big reader and has been known to dabble in anything from dancing to Pilates, cooking, running, Yoga, and true crime podcasts. Alex can be found in her natural habitat – anywhere that facilitates drinking tea and reading books. You can also find her on LinkedIn.
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