The Australian government’s Department of Industry this week sent a warning to the accounting profession. Its inaugural Australian Industry Report, released on Wednesday, carries a graph on page 44 titled “Jobs most at risk of being automated”.
The largest column in that graph, at nearly double the next profession, is labelled “bookkeepers and accounting and auditing clerks”.
One of the central themes of the report is the impact of automation by software and robots across multiple professions. It’s not just blue-collar workers in factories who are in the firing line but white-collar professions requiring tertiary degrees.
Increased automation will bring higher productivity and eventually cheaper goods and higher disposable incomes, said the department’s chief economist, Mark Cully, at the launch.
“Just as it did during the Industrial Revolution, when the invention of the loom led to waves of unemployed weavers but cheaper clothing for the masses,” Mr Cully said.
Small consolation for the weavers.
A widely-quoted Oxford Martin School study published last year estimated that about 47 per cent of all US jobs are at risk of computerisation, many of them in sectors needing high-level skills, wages and education, writes the AFR.
Add this to the mission of the Australian Taxation Office to cut $500 million in accounting fees and accounting looks like it’s in for a rocky ride.
Lest you begin your holidays with an impending sense of doom, it’s worth remembering that only parts of accounting and bookkeeping are vulnerable to automation – and typically they are the bits that most in the industry don’t like.
(Well, I have met some bookkeepers who claim to enjoy data entry…)
Volumes have already been written about moving from hourly fees to fixed-price billing, and shifting from compliance to advisory and strategic work. It makes a lot of sense.
As for technology advice, the best approach is to dive in. Work out how to automate your practice with the many different tools available and you will discover which types of work will become redundant.
One accountant I spoke to recently who runs a highly automated cloud-based practice believes accountants shouldn’t be worried by the ATO. “The bits that are being automated are the work that we could never charge for anyway,” says Paul Meissner of Five Ways Group.
Meissner claims the amount of write-offs is much lower in a cloud-based practice as there is no more sending CDs back and forwards, double ledger entry, manual processing of receipts and so on.
So enjoy your holidays and once you’re rested take a fresh look the tools you use to run your business. Accounting is in for a shake-up – but as long as you’re moving with the times, it could even end up for the better.