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Old Guy at PwC Wants Young People In the Office Because Something Something AI

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Someone tweeted this to us yesterday and the topic looked so familiar we got confused, it seemed exactly like this story from last June (because who looks at publication dates right?). The tweet:

And this is from “PwC Chair Basically Threatens AI Will Replace You If You Don’t Come Into the Office” published June 5, 2023:

For two years now, PwC UK chairman Kevin Ellis has been trying to get people back into the office. In 2021, he said he wanted to “create a buzz around returning to the office,” luring his people back with the promise of human contact we were all starved for in 2020.

When “having to see other people” didn’t work to get people flocking back to the office, he said this to The Telegraph:

Kevin Ellis, chairman of PwC, said the popularity of AI software will drive employees to abandon working from home as they want to “differentiate themselves from a robot”.

During a livestream event on AI technology for 25,000 of his staff last week, Mr Ellis told workers: “For professional services, where researching and summarising data is a key part of junior roles, AI has the potential to fast-track year one trainees to year three. You’re freeing people up to do more.

He added: “The latest wave of AI will likely bring people back to the office. People are going to want to learn from others face to face, and the best way a human can differentiate themselves from a robot is in person.”

So you can understand why the article Bloomberg published Monday seemed so eerily familiar. Nope, not the same thing, just a rehash of what he said last year. Guess the vague threat isn’t working.

Young Staff Need to Be in the Office Because of AI, Says PwC’s UK Boss

Junior staff should spend more time in the office to get quicker promotions, the UK boss of accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers said, as AI is poised to take on routine tasks traditionally given to younger workers.

Generative AI is removing “tasks that in the past our more junior staff trained and cut their teeth on,” Kevin Ellis, the chair of PwC UK, said during an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Without those tasks, “you’ve somehow got to get people through the career path faster,” he added.

“It’s a lot more face-to-face time being important and a lot more developing,” Ellis said. “So you have to get people in the office more working together.”

“If you’re asking me my opinion on how you succeed in your career,” he said. “I’d be in the office four to five days a week.”

Only five? That’s not very high performer of you, Kev.

As we pointed out last time Kevin vaguely threatened AI would replace you if you don’t show your face around the office enough, he started at PwC back in 1984. Microsoft Excel wasn’t even on the market yet. Do you reckon there was some old timer in his office who told young staff they should keep paper spreadsheets and ledgers to differentiate themselves from people using computerized ones?

Unless you’re on the partner track, who cares. Don’t let this guy bully you into the office five days a week.

5 thoughts on “Old Guy at PwC Wants Young People In the Office Because Something Something AI

  1. So the thing I don’t understand is how are the partners and manager of tomorrow supposed to learn the basics and develop the skill set they need to succeed if the first few years of public accounting are replaced by AI? There are concepts being learned during these years that are the foundation of the knowledge that will later be applied to serve clients and complete audits. Serious question.

    I already see this happening. The staff at the large firms aren’t learning the basic fundamentals because all the “dirty work” that one used to learn how to do during those years is being outsourced to sweat shops in 3rd world countries. I hired a 3rd year senior from a Big 4 firm recently for my private company accounting team and he doesn’t know jack shit about accounting. I’m talking about even the most basic and easy journal entries. It’s both amazing and highly concerning.

    1. They don’t. In my experience of working big4 international tax and F50, the majority of associates through directors SALY everything, but have no clue what they’re doing. Then partners/VPs issue spot the biggest of issues towards the end, changes made, then boom, project done. Multiple staff with 5+ years experience had no clue whether subF and GILTI were good or bad for the client.

      Pushback on forced partner retirement is two-fold: half is the greedy partners who have no other life than to work, but the other half is the firms can’t give the reigns to the dumb-dumbs that they neglected to make smart-smart.

  2. This shouldn’t be a big shock. Automating simpler work has been going on for 400 years. Literally every task I did as a staff accountant 28 years ago is now computerized. A more immediate threat for staff accountants in the US today is offshoring. If they are not in the office there is almost no difference between a staff accountant working remotely in the US and one working remotely in India for 1/3 the cost.

  3. It would be a lot more convincing that we need to be in the office all the time, if firms weren’t also pushing ever more offshoring of work. Either having most staff work done by Indian offshore teams works fine (despite being in a different hemisphere, totally different workday, and never ever being in the same office with us), in which case there’s really no good argument for needing us in the office frequently. OR, the Indian offshore idea is going terribly, the work product is miserable, different workdays just mean more delays, never being able to show someone in-person hands on what they did wrong. In which case, fine, tell people you want them back in the office a lot more–but stop offshoring and in fact pull back the vast majority of work that has already been. And for that matter, stop having all of these ‘regional’ and ‘national’ teams with folks working all over the country. No remote workers, no team members not in the same physical office, etc.

    Because if there really is a business case to be made for people needing to be working together in-person, then that sort of blows up a LOT of the accounting business model in recent years with offshoring and ever-larger teams working across many states/office designations. You can’t have it both ways, firms–make up your mind.

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