A couple of weeks ago, a guest at our offices asked an intriguing question.
"You guys are promoting accountancy, but with the rapid advancements in technology, where are all these accountants going to get jobs?" he inquired. "As a cost-cutting measure, organisations are trimming accounting departments in favour of machines," he observed.
In the recent years, advancements in technology has taken quite a drastic turn. The onset of block chain technologies, data analytics, robotics and artificial intelligence, among others, have caused quite a stir, globally, and many professionals are beginning to mull over the relevance of human intelligence.
However, whereas technology can automate a whole range of procedures, there are tasks that computers cannot perform. They cannot analyse financial statements and make recommendations for decision-making by management or the directors. And this is where the accountant's role becomes pivotal.
Many will be thrilled to learn that the upside to the rapid technological advancements outweighs the downside. Many accounting processes such as data entry and data processing will be computerized, as technology will eliminate a significant amount of clerical work.
This means that the accountant will have more time to provide more value-adding services to their clients and organization. Additionally, technology will increase the accountant's access to timely and relevant information. As a result, the accountant will be able to provide more strategic analysis and truly become the trusted business advisor.
A number of audit firms are already experimenting with tools like artificial intelligence and data analytics. Historically, audit was conducted on a sample basis because there was no way to test all the numerous transactions executed.
With technology, auditors are able to perform 100% testing and design or input parameters into the technology, and test all sorts of interesting things that they were previously unable to do. This alone is making audit work very exciting for a number of firms.
Some firms have been implementing drone technology. As part of the audit process, auditors have to observe inventory counting at the end of every year. For instance, an auditor walks into a cement factory and they are supposed to conduct counting at large warehouses with huge quantities of cement and other material, which can be very laborious. In comes the drone. The drone is sent into the warehouse and it takes a video or images of the inventory.
Equipped with barcode or QR code scanners, the drones can enable 100% counting of the inventory. Some of the drones have infra-red technology and imaging functionality; so, they enable the auditor look inside the bags or boxes without opening them. The use of drone technology is thorough because the auditor has a complete view of the entire exercise, at a faster speed and with more accurate information.
Here's what the accountant should do to ready themselves for technology advancements
Accountants need to become more tech-aware. They need to take an active interest and learn how to interact with these technologies so that they can use them to provide the value that is required of them.
Accountants are going to have to develop their critical thinking and analytical skills, because this is the edge that the accountant has over the technology.
They must improve communication and business awareness skills, especially the ability to interact and persuade. The accountant needs to acquire soft skills, because he/she is going to move away from the desk to the boardroom or out there interacting with marketers, operations and customers. This is because technology will make the accountant the repository of information which is required by other team members to make certain decisions.
As the regulator for the accountancy profession in Uganda, the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Uganda (ICPAU) is incorporating technology into the Continuing Professional Development Programme.
Within the ICPAU work plan resources are being developed, for example guidance papers, expert commentaries and tools kits for dealing with cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, blockchain technologies, robotics and data analytics.
In conclusion, therefore, to answer our guest's question, the accountant of the future is not a number cruncher nor necessarily one who can compute difficult equations and apply standards. The accountant of the future is one who is able to use the information and processing power available to him and advise relevant stakeholders of the implications of that data, and help the organisation make the right decisions. That is a very exciting future for the accountancy profession.
Mark Omona is the director, Standards & Regulations, at the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Uganda.