ACCOUNTING WEEKLY

Accountants Have Benefited From Automation Since 3 000 BC. Why Should it Stop Now? 

Nicolaas van Wyk

It’s a pity that in 1920 when archaeologists discovered 5 000 year old tablets along the Euphrates River in modern day Iraq, they didn’t speak to their accountant. The tablets and the strange symbols engraved on them would bemuse scientists for the next 50 years until an archaeologist eventually determined that they weren’t looking at a hieroglyphic rendering of a poem or religious myth, but at ancient bookkeeping. These symbols were recordings of transactions of sheep bought and sold.  

 From sheep sales to shares, whenever there is technological advancement, one of the first use cases is found in the accounting profession. We’re likely to see this trend continue in the next twenty years when research suggests that accountants and auditors face a 94 percent probability of computerisation, one of the highest values of the professions looked at in the study.  

  Yet this shouldn’t be seen as a threat but rather an opportunity. Veteran accountants will tell you that much of accounting was filled with mundane tasks before the widespread use of accounting software. As so-called Web3.0 technologies, including machine learning and artificial intelligence, become more widespread, we’re likely to have more time to focus on meaningful accounting tasks.   

 There will also be scope for new opportunities, especially ‘project management accounting’ and advisory. Enterprising accountants can use digital disruption as an opportunity to approach business owners and help them automate their accounting functions and charge for managing the process, then offer to analyse the resulting data and provide advisory services.  

 You don’t need to become a coder to do this. As an accountant, your training, expertise and experience, combined with keeping up to date with technological advancements, put you in an ideal position to lead the digital disruption instead of suffering from it.  

 This doesn’t mean that automation won’t make some jobs redundant. In the same way that cars made horse carriage drivers redundant, technological advancements will increasingly push out data capturers. The key is not to be the carriage driver, but instead the person who recently acquired a car licence.  

 Accountants have survived and thrived from technological breakthroughs since the tablets of the stone age. There is no reason the increasingly intelligent programs we run on digital tablets should change that story. 

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