Yet another article about the accountant shortage has been published and we’ll spare you the bit about mass boomer retirements, declining accounting enrollments, and scary AICPA figures because it gets repeated in every single one of these articles. So why mention it at all? Because at the very bottom they get the expert opinion of Gareth James, dean of the Goizueta Business School at Emory University. He suggests that technology is at least partly to blame for the lack of talent further up the ladder.
At first I read this and wondered if I accidentally made decaf this morning because what? If anything technology transformation would ease the shortage because it reduces the busywork tasks, thereby reducing the number of grunts required to do said work. Then I read it again and understood what he’s saying. The pool of trained grunts is smaller because technology does much of the work they used to do, so there are fewer of these people ascending the ladder.
One explanation for the shortage of accountants is technology transformation, James says, meaning that machine learning and other artificial intelligence algorithms have taken on some of the more “menial” tasks in accounting, such as checking transactions on an audit.
“There’s a lot of work that recently graduated students used to do in accounting that was really quite menial,” James says. “You can have a program go through literally millions of transactions in a few seconds looking for patterns that are unusual that might suggest either an error or an intentional transaction that shouldn’t be in there.”
Since some of the more entry-level accounting jobs have been taken over by emerging technologies, firms are having a tougher time finding professionals to fill higher-level positions.
Emerging technologies have had both a “positive and a negative impact on the accounting industry,” James says. “This means there’s an opportunity for some more interesting work for them, but it also means that some of that industry has actually had a hard time finding enough students at the moment.”
Let’s pretend for a moment that low pay and long hours aren’t almost entirely to blame for the shortage. Could he onto something?