What will the accounting industry look like in 2040? Will Skynet launch a nuclear apocalypse, leaving robots to inherit Earth’s charred, radioactive remains, or will it just ruin the Terminator franchise with unnecessary and confusing reboots?
Will accountants be plugged into a giant matrix, their bioelectricity used to power evil machine overlords, even though a human being is about the stupidest thing you could possibly use as a battery (sorry Wachowskis)?
We sat down with Pavan Satyaketu, a leader at consulting firm Advaion, to get some real answers. Then we did some research of our own to make sure Pavan knows what he’s talking about (turns out, he does!) and to create some more realistic projections on the future of accounting.
Here are four ways the accounting industry will (probably) change in the next 20 years. We’re pretty confident about these predictions, but if robots or zombies do rise up and destroy human civilization, you’re welcome to come back and tell us how wrong we were.
1. (Human) accountants will still be a thing …
With the advancement of artificial intelligence (AI) and computer automation in recent years, large accounting firms have adapted to a much more IT-reliant work environment.
The Big 4 firms are quickly moving from rows of paper-filled drawers to bot-created computer files stored on invisible cloud servers—virtually eliminating the need for human data entry.
With all these automated changes in the world of accounting, many number-crunching experts have begun to ask the logical question: Are accountants a dying breed?
The quick answer: No. But in order to remain relevant and employed, future accountants and auditors will be forced to make better use of their interpersonal and analytical skills to supplement the continuous changes in automated technology. In other words, we don’t need Miss Cleo to tell us what we already know—human interaction still reigns.
2. … but accounting jobs will look a lot different
It wasn’t long ago that most of us were jumping for joy at the sight of two line graphs crossing on our TI-83 calculators. Today IBM, General Electric, and other tech giants are helping businesses save money and improve accuracy through the use of robot automation for routine tasks.
Due to these advances, many accounting firms are restructuring to remove administrative jobs and are now using AI for accounts payable and receivable. With basic accounting being outsourced to microchips, how much work is left for humans?
According to Satyaketu, a lot. An advisor and former Big 4 accountant, he believes the next generation must understand how the entire business works, not just the accounting department.
Satyaketu said that tomorrow’s accountants will be required to have plenty of advising and consulting skills, as they’ll be called upon to help clients forecast and evaluate financial decisions in ways a computer cannot. And as technology will automate more of the basic numbers tasks, accountants will also need to get better at dealing with *gasp* real people.
“In 20 years, we will have AI interpreting all of our work, but ultimately we’ll need to relay that information to the client,” he said. “You’re going to have to use your base knowledge and advisory skills, as well as interpersonal skills, to a much greater extent than today.”
3. Accounting basics will still be invaluable
Computers have never been perfect. And from what we learned from the Back to the Future series, there’s a good chance two decades won’t change that. Accountants will still need solid math and basic accounting skills to solve solutions that AI might misinterpret.
“Technology will make things much more efficient, but we’re still going to have to go into IT and pull out the anomalies and discrepancies and work through them,” Satyaketu said. “You’re going to have to have the knowledge to say, ‘Well, the computer is giving us an output of x, but I know that it should be y, and I can prove it.’ It will force us to be much more analytical in that regard.”
But again, tomorrow’s clients are going to want to see the faces behind those numbers. And that means accountants who can also deliver some good ol’ fashioned service with a smile will have a leg up on those who struggle to speak human.
“We’re going to have to sit down with clients and go through business processes,” Satyaketu said. “Accountants will be responsible for explaining to companies what they can fix and how they can reposition themselves to improve their business.”
4. Robots will be our friends, not our overlords (at least not yet)
Why won’t robots take over the accounting world? Well, imagine Bender from Futurama running a client meeting. It’d be funny, sure, but about the fifth or sixth time he chugged a beer and burped fire across the conference table, the clients would run screaming for the hills.
AI is great for some things, but firms won’t want it at the forefront of the company. It won’t be responsible for key client interactions, and it won’t get the final say on business-critical decisions. We’ll still need people for that—preferably, people who are good at talking to and working with our robot buddies.
“I think accountants who understand technology will rise to the top,” Satyaketu said. “Yes, the robots are coming, but they aren’t going to take away our jobs.”
If the current market for accountants is any indication of what is in store for the industry, the future looks bright for those hoping to make it at a big firm. Despite automation, there will likely remain a high demand for those willing and able to adapt.
“Accounting will always be in demand,” Satyaketu said. “While we may change the way we do our jobs and interact with clients, the profession will not fade.”
Your accounting job future is now
As the accounting world continues to evolve, why not take advantage of the opportunity to grow with it? A career in advising gives you the skills accountants will need in 2040 today, exposing you to every part of the business and helping you grow your consulting and interpersonal skills.
And if you’re going to make the switch, there’s no better place to do it than at Satyaketu’s firm, Advaion. Lucky for you, it’s hiring now.
At Advaion, you’ll not only learn to become a better advisor, consultant, and client confidant, you’ll also get to work with cutting-edge technology like AI and business process automation. Forget 2040—at Advaion you can start living the future today.
Click one of the links below to apply for an open advising job at Advaion.