How AI technology in accountancy are re-shaping roles

The rise of new AI technology in Accountancy and Finance is hard to ignore. But will this have a positive or negative impact on accountancy jobs? We believe there will be both good and bad outcomes from the automation of accounting. 

Automation in action

Today machine-learning software, a form of AI, can read thousands of lines of business transactions and instantly assess whether an item of expenditure is tax deductible. This means the painstaking work of an army of tax accountants can be carried out in seconds by a piece of software.

We’re also seeing invoice processing and accounts payable functionality increasingly managed by automated systems, with data stored in the cloud, as is the case with popular accounting software systems like Xero.

Certainly here at Harvey John, we’ve witnessed in recent years how the introduction of AI and automation in finance work is triggering a rethink of the responsibilities of those in traditional accounting, finance and tax roles. There are noticeably fewer transactional roles advertised today than there were five years ago. It seems the transactional positions are increasingly being scaled back in favour of automated systems.

Finance teams are now different

There are still jobs in financial data entry, but the trend is undoubtedly towards automation. Over half (54%) of public and private sector organisations in a 2017 Deloitte survey said they expected to use AI to automate manual processes, while a massive 62% said they’d use AI to automate judgement-based processes. It’s likely, that basic data entry, invoice processing, reconciling, accounting compliance, diligence work, risk management and tax review work will become almost entirely automated or data-driven in the coming years.

What could be the negative effects?

It does look as though the more processing transactional layer of finance roles will shrink back. But a big plus of this could be that people entering finance departments do so at a slightly higher level. This would have positive implications for starting salaries, and people setting out on a finance career are likely to enjoy a more varied role from day one.

There are fresh opportunities too, because finance departments are being freed from repetitive tasks and manual processing. While some roles might gradually be made redundant, we do see new, potentially more engaging roles appearing in finance, thanks to the rise of ‘Big Data’, and ‘management information’.

All that data

Data analysis is a massive area of growth, and accountancy firms and corporate finance departments are now seeking people with skills in commercial and business analytics. With accountancy software in place, data-driven insights become available which require human expertise to analyse and act upon the findings. Reports can be run that show peak transaction times, fraud risks, and areas of the business that are less profitable than others – all commercially valuable information that requires the eyes and minds of expert data analysts. One role we see emerging is an accountant/data scientist. There’s no doubt that accountants who want to future-proof their careers must develop both a theoretical and practical understanding of data and analytics.

You must adapt!

Our advice to people in accountancy, who might be concerned about the evolution, is to learn new skills and adapt. This applies no matter what your age, or career level. We’re already seeing a growing demand for IT skills in accountancy. So it will pay to embrace the changes coming through and boost your CV with technology skills. Having experience using the leading ERP systems from SAP or Oracle, it’s going to be useful for career progression. Knowledge of business intelligence software such as IBM Cognos and Business Objects looks good from a data analytics perspective. Advancing your Excel skills is also a must. Some of the new roles we’re seeing are blending IT with finance, and certainly, skilled Commercial and Business Analysts are highly sought after.

The traditional finance team is evolving fast. Make sure your skill set evolves too so that your career can progress healthily. Don’t forget, we’re here to help if you need advice!

Georgina Trudgill is a Director in the Accountancy Division at Harvey John.

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