The advent of new digital tools is creating profound changes in many sectors of activity such as accountancy. It is already possible to delegate certain tedious tasks to artificial intelligences. According to a study conducted by the University of Oxford, a bot allowing to define the level of threat of professions in 20 years predicts with a probability of 95%, the disappearance of the profession of chartered accountant. Is the future so bleak for this profession?
The changing role of the accountant
The profession of chartered accountant in its traditional vision was until then quite delimited. This professional, as soon as he registered with the Order of Chartered Accountants, was responsible for keeping the accounts on a daily basis. This involves, among other things, setting up the tax package, defining forecasts, taking charge of tax declarations and optimizing cash flow.
A chartered accountant has been well trained for his various missions during his studies. This makes him suitable for practicing in traditional accounting firms. However, in recent years, it is clear that the situation has changed. New issues are emerging within accounting firms. They profoundly challenge this traditional aspect of accounting.
These profound changes have increased the pressure on firms, which must more than ever justify their expert position. Clients, for their part, are less and less inclined to pay their accountant for various accounting assignments. They are looking for experts able to advise them in the management of their business. Ten years ago, for example, it was estimated that 75% of the work of accountants was limited to repetitive processing and only 25% advice. Figures that have obviously changed with increasing automation.
How is technology changing the work of the accountant?
To say that technology is changing the work of the accountant would be an understatement. They are very real and could be a threat to the work of this professional.
It’s hard to ignore one of the strong trends in the accounting industry. This is the arrival of digital pure-players of accounting-tech. These directly integrate digital technology into client companies. In the firms, employees faced with these new players have the obligation to adapt to the tools of their customers, that is to say purchasing management software, accounting software, dashboards, etc.
If you want to become an accountant, then you will need to focus on training that addresses this aspect. It will be necessary to choose one which integrates the handling and the learning of these new technologies within its course.
Technology, a potential threat to the work of the accountant
For many people, technology is one of the greatest threats to the public accountant profession. This thought is completely legitimate when referring to the new accounting software solutions that offer companies the possibility of managing the essentials of their compatibility. What’s more, these solutions are particularly economical since they avoid paying for tasks that can be automated.
Only traditional accountancy is strongly challenged by the advent of automated software and the great simplification of administrative documents. Generalization of the electronic invoice, direct debit or pre-filled VAT declaration; these are all advances which, to a certain extent, call into question the function of the chartered accountant. The future is far from rosy for support functions and people in charge of data entry.
But for now, it would be rather presumptuous to say that the chartered accountant is doomed to disappear due to the digitization of accounting tools. Indeed, this would amount to marginalizing the importance of this professional within the company. As the Order of Chartered Accountants reminds us, robots are not able to handle the completeness of documents and the complexity of customer requests.
Accountant: a profession of the future?
Contrary to popular opinion, the profession of accountant is not just about spending your days locked in an office constantly analyzing books of account. This professional is not limited to the analysis of the finances of his clients. The chartered accountant is increasingly oriented towards client relations, interpretation and advice. This accounting specialist is thus responsible for guiding his clients in their various strategic decision-making in terms of management and finance. He is therefore a genuine consulting partner whose role is decisive at the heart of the company.
This is the reason why a good number of firms are turning more and more towards consulting. Their experts become real business partners and actively participate in the company’s strategy. This development has also been observed not only in large entities with financial departments, but also within SMEs.
In addition, we are witnessing an intensification of groupings of firms to increase productivity, better control costs and increase their turnover. This kind of practice has increased in response to the health crisis, but not only. Independent firms are concentrating to cope with the high concentration of the market and the monopoly of the Big 4 (Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC) whose advice represents 44% of their turnover. This allows them to amortize the cost of marketing and production tools which can be quite substantial for a single firm.
The chartered accountant, many challenges to overcome
With the profound changes in the profession of chartered accountant, many challenges will have to be met. These include, among others:
- recruitment of new employees,
- the commitment of remote employees,
- differentiation in a highly competitive market,
- workload management,
- to face the pressure on the profitability of the practices,
- to rethink management methods…
The recruitment of new employees, for example, is necessary to deal with the talent shortage. This will make it possible to recruit profiles likely to enable the firm to continue to meet the expectations of its clients. The differentiation resulting from the arrival of digital pure-players on the market will allow firms to review their call for tenders in order to offer new, less conventional services.
In addition, the usual accounting missions are seeing their margins drop, which forces firms to have to reorganize their business models. Their sustainability is at stake. Another additional challenge that chartered accountants must take up is to adapt their management style, which must give greater priority to soft skills (critical thinking, leadership, etc.) instead of hard skills.