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Accountants Vs Machines

“The pace of change has never been this fast, yet it will never be this slow again” is a great line from Justin Trudeau’s World Economic Forum speech. It is hard to go a day without seeing an article or a viewpoint in the media declaring Artificial Intelligence will make certain jobs redundant - but will it be the same for those roles carried out in the finance industry?

Technological advancements are at a faster pace than ever, with computers becoming more reactive and human-like in their responses and decision-making. In January, a round on the American television quiz show Jeopardy was won by a computer named Watson, beating previous quiz show champions.

The rapid pace of technology advancement will no doubt see computers performing some accounting and finance functions, and this is already happening. Recent innovations like mobile phone apps that can identify expenses from photographs of source documents, and automatically allocate them to the accounting records is already being widely used across a range of industries. In fact, last year HMRC confirmed it will begin rolling out artificial intelligences to review tax returns and issue tax penalties.

Deciding to implement such technology in business must be well planned and researched. It is important that management make the decision in the context of their particular business. For example, do they have the resources to employ this technology – certain pieces of software can be expensive and involve significant upfront costs before yielding any benefits. Do staff have an appetite to adopt this technology? To maximise effectiveness it is important that staff are trained and competent in using the technology on a regular basis. How secure is the software and the devices used? This is particularly important in the current world of big data, with the real risk of data breaches in large and small businesses across the world, not to mention compliance with data protection legislation.

Whilst it appears inevitable that technology is developing to take over the more repetitive or basic accounting and finance functions, there are some positive aspects for use of this technology by accountants and businesses. Not only will technology bring about new types of jobs that will be less repetitive and more interpretive (increasing employee job satisfaction), it will also free up management’s time to focus on value-adding activities. Activities that can add to revenue (such as focusing on new markets, products and clients) or reduce costs within a business.

If firms are looking to the future but aren’t open to change, they will lose competitive advantage. As Northern Ireland businesses increasingly compete on a global scale, the adoption of robotics and technologies is essential. Rather than seeing technology as a threat, accountants and businesses should see it as a growing opportunity.