There is some fear in the world of Accounting that as employees we may become obsolete in the future as automation and artificial intelligence becomes more of a significant tool in the workplace. I wrote a post which you can view here, which discusses the reasons that accountants will never truly be replaced in their entirety by robots. However, to summarise the post for you, I do believe there will be less of a need for such vast numbers of auditors and bookkeepers throughout the world. An audit office which previously had 1,000 employees will likely only need 100 in the future. As after all, these robots need some element of human interaction, and a human generally needs to make the final decisions on things. I cannot foresee a situation where the regulators allow for a robot to sign off the audit in replacement of a human partner.
It very much depends what area of accounting you work in as to the likelihood that your job could potentially be replaced. Tax preparers were rated as the largest chance of having their jobs replaced by automation. Bookkeepers and Auditors were not far behind!
Now, I did use the word “replaced” which I do think is unfair. Those of us who stay stagnant and do not move with the trend will likely be replaced over time. In order to remain in your tax preparation job and remain successful, you will need to become somewhat adept at managing automation within your role. Just like accountants who prepare accounts with a pen-and-paper no longer exist (or if they do, they’re a dying breed), eventually accountants who simply use excel and manually input data into excel sheets will become obsolete too.
The question then seem to have an obvious answer. As an Accountant, should you learn about Automation and how to automate your daily tasks? Well…of course!
Benefits of Automating Accounting Work
In my day-to-day job, I have really been pushing myself to automate tasks as much as possible. There are two key reasons for this; it saves my time; and it future-proofs my role.
Where I work, there is very little automation at the current moment in time, but it is something that is slowly beginning to emerge. Getting yourself ahead of the pack in this regard props you up to a position which means you’re not lagging behind, but it also saves a significant amount of your own time.
You will notice that your workflows significantly improve. I can now get more work completed in a day, which benefits the firm overall. And at the end of the day, what benefits the firm, will benefit me in the long run via promotions and bonuses. Admittedly, we don’t all work at companies who recognise efforts like these. However, even learning automation and being able to add it to your CV will enable you to climb the career ladder elsewhere.
For me, one of the key benefits of automation is the level of improved accuracy to work. When you’re dealing with many different spreadsheets and data-sources, you’re prone to making small mistakes over time. However, automation, assuming you keep on top of the setup being correct can lead to a perfect outcome. A robot cannot mistype a word, or input a number incorrectly with their fat fingers. The elimination of human error in my work, or at least significant reduction of it has been a godsend for me.
Tasks that Accountants can Automate
There are various tasks which can be made simpler in the invoicing process using programming such as Python. One of my favourite ones is being able to extract information from a PDF automatically.
Let’s say you have 100 invoices in PDF format sitting in a folder, and you know that you need to go through them and extract the key data: Invoice number, contact details, amount, payment details etc. Well, did you know that Python could automatically open up all of those PDFs and recognise those key pieces of information, and store them neatly within an excel file for you?
Tasks which could normally take hours, can take minutes when you know how to utilise automation and programming as an accountant.
The same benefits in the invoicing process can be applied to expenses. To use Python as an example again, you could automate the analysis and sorting of all expenses. A code could be created to automatically collate and analyse all expense data for your company on a monthly basis, and then automatically email that report to the relevant individuals within the firm.
The key benefit of automating payroll within your accounting/bookkeeping business is the simple reduction in human error.
This can be beneficial in the simple fact that nobody wants to be paid the incorrect amount. However, it also includes other benefits such as increased security. If everything is correctly automated, then nobody will receive someone else’s payslip due to human error of emailing to the wrong address.
There can be a significant amount of time saved during the payroll process if automated programming is utilised. This obviously has financial benefits for your firm in the long term, as well as making other areas of the business more simplistic, such as tax filings and reporting.
In conclusion – Should you learn about Automation as an Accountant?
I honestly think you would be silly to not at least learn some basic automation to help your role at work. I think in the next 15 years, automation will really become an essential part of the workplace in many offices, and when it comes to climbing the career ladder, being somewhat adept at creating automated processes will make you stand out from the crowd.