A recent online post by Lee Reams [click here] asked ‘Will artificial intelligence replace the accountants of tomorrow?’ The article outlined the usual arguments for embracing the benefits of technology in creating more efficiency in the workplace. Lee extended the discussion further by contrasting the current focus on technology with the clear need to remain relevant to our clients.
“For all the major benefits that technology brings to the table, however, there is one quality that current accountants have that will never be replaceable: humanity. Artificial intelligence may be able to quickly identify the “smart” move, but how good is it at identifying the “right” move for the right client at the right time? The humanity of accountants is something that you can never automate, never replace and never take for granted.”
This valuable insight raises serious questions about where the current focus on technology is leading for the profession of ‘accountant’ as well as that of other professional service providers. There’s no doubt that technology adds value when it allows people to spend less time on mundane, repetitive and inefficient tasks. However, there’s a serious issue to consider here. Do we take advantage of this increased efficiency to create more volume (doing more of the same thing), or do we look at the increased capacity as an opportunity to create more value?
One perspective on the changing work environment refers to ‘digital humanism‘, the process whereby, through technology, people are able to achieve things they never believed possible, to redefine the way their goals are achieved. There’s no doubt that we are seeing our clients really start to challenge both themselves and their advisors to ‘achieve things they never believed possible’ (or perhaps never really considered). As accountants in public practice, we should be doing more to challenge ourselves to think outside the square, to consider ways we can ‘reinvent’ ourselves and the role that we have with our clients.
A recent article on this debate commented that ” ours is an age of technocrats. It has brought stupendous advances. And it has brought us to the edge of several abysses.Rare is the politician or rock star who does not prefer ready-made solutions to more open-ended prescriptions. And it’s easier to staff an organisation with well-defined expertise than critical habits of the mind. But there is now an urgent need to balance our technocratic approach with a new humanism. Otherwise we’ll face our greatest challenges without our greatest intellectual resources, and the development community will be unable to reimagine itself for a dramatically changed world.”
I see great challenges and opportunities within the world of professional services. We must embrace the benefits of technology and, at the same time, use these benefits to refocus on what we should be doing – to really engage with our clients and helping them to imagine and create their future. As some older and wiser accountants in public practice have observed, in moving towards the future we’re actually going back to the past when accountants were truly the trusted advisers of their clients.
As a profession, we face a real challenge in balancing the current focus on technology with the need to be connected with our people and with our clients. How are you managing this transition in your firm?
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Also published on Medium.