Is Digital taking over the role of an Accountant?

It is no secret that we live in an increasingly digital world, and no doubt most of us have long since accepted the role that the likes of the internet and mobile technology play in our day-to-day lives.

But whereas many technological advancements – and the digitalisation of a wide variety of services - are most welcome on a personal level, what does it mean on a professional basis? 

Here, we consider whether digital could take over the role of an accountant, or whether it simply serves to complement the skills of those individuals operating in this arena.  

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Love it or loathe it, technology has had a huge influence on the way that modern accountants operate, and there is no denying that an increasing amount of importance is being placed on the digital ability of professionals operating in the sector.

Furthermore, the streamlining, as one might call it, of certain traditional processes has also, arguably, removed the need for an accountant’s involvement altogether – take for example tax which has already gone online, with the Chancellor calling time on the traditional method of ‘return’ in 2015.

The objectives, as outlined by HMRC, included simplification of the process, as well as having a single point of access for all things tax related. Add into the equation the increased sophistication of user friendly apps and software such as Freshbooks, Xero, Sage and QuickBooks, and some have called into question whether certain accountancy tasks need to be outsourced altogether.

But whilst it is important to recognise the changing face of the profession, it is equally important not to get too hung up on whether it has the capacity to supersede it altogether.  

One key point to consider is that software cannot replace (despite offering companies the opportunity to at least reduce their workforce, and potentially speed up certain processes) the advice of an experienced, worldly accountant.

Software programmes may be able to analyse data and produce a comprehensive report of the figures but it can’t make suggestions, read a wider situation, or offer advice based on similar situations.

In addition, the fact remains that technology – no matter how clever it has become – cannot update itself. It can’t respond or interpret legislative changes solo, and it can’t consider the wider impact of an accounting decision on an organisation during times of growth, diversification or consolidation.

In fact, those embracing the new era might even see technology as an aid that can help drive efficiencies - creating the ability to analyse huge sets of data and therefore saving time (and, indeed, money) – and allowing for more creativity in the accountancy process.

After all, there is no escaping that we’re living in the age of the algorithm – or to put it another way, curation. Software more than ever is designed to curate the information we need (or want) to see. But even the cleverest software though can’t replace the human ‘touch’; or our desire as humans to talk things through, develop trusted personal connections, and to understand the why’s and the how’s.

Taking all of the above into account, what’s most likely is a hybrid blend of the human experience and the rise of the ‘machine’. Ultimately we need the ‘machines’ (the tech, the software, the apps) to help us manage the ever-increasing quantities of information with which we are faced, but we need them not to replace the human element but rather to enhance it.

Having said all of that, the one area we do need to consider within the profession itself is the amount of emphasis placed on allowing computers do the role of an entry level accountant. Whilst it may seem like a solution to keeping costs down in the short term, the question comes when one asks how new graduates will gain the experience they need to move through the ranks? A very modern problem that we are yet to understand fully but one that seems to be an ever growing issue...

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