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Accounting News Roundup: Robots and Regulations | 02.21.17

Robots err comin fer yer jobs

It’s late February, so if a robot showed up at your desk ready to take over your duties, many of you would pack up your desk, leave and never look back. And, who knows, that might actually happen some day. NYU Professor Vasant Dhar writes in Wired believes that since “most tax return decisions, especially the simpler ones, aren’t terribly risky,” that means accounting jobs are ripe for robots.

More than 2 million people were employed as accountants, bookkeepers, and auditors in 2015. Until now, these types of information-oriented professions have resisted automation because they require managing unstructured data emanating from the real world, making judgments, and dealing with actual people. What’s different now, however, is that artificial intelligence’s perceptive capabilities have improved. Machines can now handle images, sounds, and text in a way that enables them to ingest and analyze data at high volume, without making costly mistakes. Between accounting professionals and truck drivers alone, about 4.5 million human jobs could be ceded to robots over the next few years.

Although the actual numbers are up in the air (and tax preparers aren’t accountants and vice versa), there’s bound to be some displacement of accounting workers. It’s just a little difficult to pin down how many. Will all H&R Blocks be staffed by Watsons in 2020? Will Emperor Trump stand up for the accountants being replaced by automation? No one really knows. But sure, technology will eliminate some accounting jobs, some truck driver jobs and maybe even some accounting jobs at trucking companies.

Elsewhere: Bill Gates says robots that steal jobs should pay taxes.

Accountants behaving badly

Any of you who took our advice and moved to Hawaii in the past two weeks may already be up to speed on this, but apparently an accountant there helped herself to professional surfer Clay Marzo’s money:

According to The Maui News, from 2008 to 2015, [Felicidad Rivera] wrote almost 200 checks to herself totaling about $334, 500. Her credit card bills were also set up to come directly out of the Marzos’ bank accounts. She got caught, though, when Marzo’s mother noticed charges for a bunch of designer handbags that she hadn’t bought. When she realized they’d been shipped to Rivera’s house, she called the police.

Perhaps I’m naive since no one has ever embezzled money from me, but why was it the handbags that tipped them off? Why wasn’t it the fact that they were paying someone else’s credit card bills? Or the checks being written to a bookkeeper every two weeks for seven years?  In any case, Ms. Rivera pleaded guilty and faces jail time.

Trump stuff

Hey remember that executive order that was signed a couple weeks back that’s supposed to eliminate two regulations for every new regulation enacted? Don’t worry, it’s not going to effect accounting rules.


Last month, we shared the story of a CPA who was arrested for threatening former President Obama’s life on Facebook. Now, reports that a Pennsylvania judge found William Peterman Jr. was not fit to stand trial:

According to a Feb. 6 order in U.S. District Court, in Pennsylvania, 33-year-old William Peterman’s evaluation required by Magistrate Judge Carol Sandra Moore Wells found that he “at the current time he is not competent to stand trial.”

“He requires further assessment, observation and treatment as necessary in an inpatient facility,” Pogos H. Voskanian, M.D., wrote following a Jan. 30 assessment of the South Carolina resident who most recently worked as an accountant.

Sadly, Mr. Peterman’s sister stated that he has struggled with mental illness for years despite his family’s efforts to get him the help he needs. This particular incident “came at the tail end of Peterman’s most recent episode and worsening schizophrenia.”

Previously, on Going Concern…

Yesterday was Presidents Day — Did you know Harry Truman was a haberdasher? — so we were off. And we were experiencing some technical difficulties last Friday, but things should be back to normal now (fingers crossed).

Meanwhile, in Open Items, someone is looking for “guidance on how to treat the unrealized profit on intra-company inventory sales when the investment is accounted for cost method.”

In other news:

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