Accountants expect technology transformation by 2028
Accountants are expecting to see the profession radically changed by 2028, with 96% predicting that technology is set to change their role within the next 10 years, according to research by information provider Thomson Reuters.
4 Sep 2018
Reuters polled 345 accountants in practice and conducted qualitative research, including in-depth interviews, with four partner-level accountants to assess the general outlook of the industry. It found that 96% of mid- and senior-level accountants surveyed say advances in technology are likely to change their role as an accountant within the next ten years.
When asked of their concerns about certain aspects of accounting changing over the next ten years, 68% professed themselves ‘extremely concerned’ or ‘somewhat concerned’ by the tightening of compliance regulations on clients’ businesses. The digitisation of tax authority, such as the move towards Making Tax Digital (MTD), produced a similar (65%) response. Meeting compliance deadlines, on the other hand, elicited very low levels of concern from 55% of respondents.
In an assessment of which critical accountancy tasks were expected to change the most, bookkeeping (78%), data collection (74%) and tax return/submission (65%) topped the list. At the bottom, business plan creation (18%) and auditing (13%) were regarded as relatively un-automatable. Tasks requiring a degree of human intervention, judgement, or imaginative problem-solving were seen as safe from robotic intervention. Client communication (29%) was also seen as relatively safe from encroachment by artificial intelligence.
Respondents foresaw spending significantly more time on advisory services, such as reviewing clients’ internal systems and procedures, recommending IT systems, tax planning and consultancy, and business development plans.
Those surveyed were generally optimistic about the opportunities that advances in technology could bring. Two-thirds of accountants (59%) viewed tax in real-time as a positive change for the profession. It is expected to substantially improve the accuracy of source material, better cash-flow forecasting and liability planning, and as a ‘potential gateway’ to the invention and diffusion of advisory services.
However, concerns were expressed by a number of accountants about the current state of the technology. HMRC’s performance in rolling out MTD had coloured the view of some respondents, while others saw the potential for the technology to be disruptive to the traditional relationship between clients and accountants.
In terms of making use of new technology, those surveyed felt that developing expertise in particular fields was a pressing need. 89% saw expertise in cloud-based technology as important, with business planning and awareness of tax of law also seen as critical.
The need to confront the future was clearly felt by accountants. When asked to agree or disagree with a series of statements, 96% agreed that they would ‘need to integrate new skills and experience’ over the next decade. 79% believed that their business model would be different in ten years time. When asked if there would be fewer accountants in the future, however, the responses were more even, with 20% unable to express an opinion. Still less certain was whether more compliance would be outsourced in the future: 52% disagreed, but 23% did not know.
The report concludes that the accountancy profession was aware that significant changes were on the horizon and that while accountants ‘will ask more from their technology partners’, a ‘more demanding client base’ was likely to ask for greater expertise and a wider range of services from accountants in the future. The impetus was therefore to adapt to changing technology and improve services in real time rather than wait for a paradigm shift.
Charlotte Rushton, president of the tax professionals business of Thomson Reuters, said: ‘The tax and accounting profession is facing multiple sources of meaningful change, including new legislation and a wave of new technology that will impact both their own and their clients’ businesses.
‘Accounting and tax professionals who increase their focus on adopting and becoming proficient with next-generation technologies, while incorporating higher-value advisory services into their mix, will position themselves for a stronger future.’
Report by James Bunney