Why Finance Shouldn’t Fear Robo-Accountants

June 27, 2016 Rishi Grover

The phenomenon of machines taking over jobs performed by humans – known as technological unemployment – isn’t a new one. It began in manufacturing with the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, and continues today as companies like Tesla and Google threaten jobs in transportation and logistics.

Finance and accounting aren’t immune to the trend either; applications such as Quill are already drafting reports for financial giants and even U.S. intelligence agencies according to the MIT Technology Review.

A study by NPR also found that accountants and auditors have a 93.5 percent chance of being automated, while bookkeepers have a 97.6 percent chance within the next decade or two.

So should Finance fear automation and the rise of “robo-accountants”?

Embracing technology to succeed

The short answer is no. Pessimism stemming from such statistics are based on the old school perception that Finance is only an administrative function – number-crunching, so to speak. And in that solely administrative arena, robo-accountants will undoubtedly come out on top.

The NPR study reinforces this distinction, explaining that jobs “mainly consisting of tasks following well-defined procedures that can easily be performed by sophisticated algorithms,” are at a high risk of automation.

That spells great news for progressive finance professionals

As we’re seeing at an ever-growing rate, Finance is much more than just repeatable number-crunching. The Association of Accountants and Financial Professionals in Business recently described the trend as “an on-going transformation that shows the finance function becoming more of strategic business partner within their organizations.”

Instead of fighting automation, finance departments that embrace it to get at data more quickly and efficiently will actually increase their value to the organization. Time freed up by automation enables finance teams to analyze data and provide real insights to their management partners.

In other words, finance can work side by side with robo-accountants, or as Brian Picarrelli, President of Thomson Reuters Tax & Accounting, writes:

We expect to see the industry evolve significantly as it increasingly marries powerful technology with the human element to create a hybrid a cyborg if you will. This new breed of professional will be powered by big data and enhanced productivity tools.

That embrace of technology is not future talk. In fact, most CFOs already have it high on their to-do lists. As The Hackett Group found in The CFO Agenda, a report on finance leaders and their biggest priorities:

“CFOs want more insights into their business than simply broad stroke profit and loss numbers. Tools that provide greater understanding of nuanced performance metrics such as business unit performance, customer lifetime value, and churn will also be part of the CFOs top technological investments over the next 18 months.

As Finance continues to make an impact in profit-making decisions with value-added analysis and reports, CFOs shouldn’t fear robo-accountants, but look forward to them. Embracing the future, where algorithms and corporate performance management solutions take care of the number crunching, while Finance delivers valuable analysis insights, sounds more like Utopia rather than the ‘Skynet’ dystopia evoked by the march of the robo-accountants. 

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