AAT research shows accounting technicians can take pole position in the digital age

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We’ve been talking about the future of accountancy for a while. Little by little, that future is creeping into the present.

Much of the discussion has been about the big picture – how the services, team structure, and practices will change. But new AAT research looks at specifically at whether accounting technicians are still relevant. 

The Impact of Technology on Accounting Technicians and Bookkeepers was conducted by Nottingham Business School and Warwick Economics and Development. It specifically looks at the future prospects for accounting technicians and draws on the thoughts and opinions of accountants at all levels and specialisms across the world. 

Five things about the future 

The study reveals a bright outlook for accounting technicians. 

  1. Practical people with accounting qualifications are likely to be in demand.
  2. Knowledge of basic accounting and bookkeeping will remain the number one skill.
  3. Academic qualifications, such as degrees, are expected to be far less popular. 
  4. Work will change and tasks will be replaced. But automation and digitisation will transform jobs, not replace them.  
  5. Other skills seen as extremely important include (in order) communication skills, ethics and governance, IT skills and data analysis.  

The route to success is paved with CPD 

The report authors suggest the recipe for remaining relevant is spelled, C-P-D.  They state: “Continuous professional development is extremely important in a fast-changing working environment”. Change is happening now, driven by factors such as regulation and technology. 

Interviews with accountants and finance professionals of all sizes and from all sectors found a common theme “the need for upskilling and more effective and extensive continuous professional development (CPD) to adapt to new technologies.

It is expected that in the future basic accounting tasks will be assisted by technology and this will free up time for bookkeepers and accounting technicians. They should utilise this time by keeping their CPD up to date on legislation changes, reporting to clients’ real-time information and help client manage cash flow better and assist with business planning.

Accountant in construction sector.

Actively keeping up with CPD is extremely important for future accountants in the context of the future accounting profession.

Accountant, advising technical sector.

But are other actions that accounting professionals can take alongside honing finance-related skills.  The report says that taking a short course on key skills, such as IT, could provide the second most important qualification – and prove more valuable than a degree.  

Blockchain is the next big disrupter 

Blockchain is set to be a game-changer for accountancy, with the potential to both  simplify and enhance some of the tasks that you undertake.

Transaction records can be automated and stored ultra-securely. Every record is accurate, cannot be tampered with, and won’t need to be double-checked. 

“By enabling the introduction and adoption of fully automated electronic ways without the need for an intermediary or a trusted party (i.e. done online). “Blockchain would lead to significant changes in employment and the type of skills needed in the accounting profession,” says the report.

Your job won’t disappear – but it will be different 

Despite losing elements of your role to technology, there is still a place for you in the organisations you work within. While machines will do some of the work you do now, they will also provide you with the tools to do more with the rest of your skills. 

“It won’t be the case that there will no longer be accounting technicians,” says Jonathan Millet, CEO of Block3, a blockchain technology company. “The same way we oppose the view that in medicine we don’t need doctors because we’re using AI. Whatever profession you are… you are the last line of defence and you use this technology as a mechanic could. So, you are there to tweak it and to iterate and improve on where it’s allocated.” 

This is already happening in other parts of the world. A CPA operating out of the US told the researchers: “In the US and Middle East, where I work, the focus is more on how you analyse and interpret the numbers and less about the debit and credits. It is more about the future forecasting and business analytics with the help of the systems.”

43% of your current role will be automated

Of those surveyed, eight out of ten said that AI and automation will impact on your role. Almost half of that number said that the impact would be significant. 

A finance manager for Boots UK told researchers: “As more suppliers sign up to electronic invoicing and the core systems become more established and uniform within companies, there should be a need for fewer junior ledger staff. A number of roles would become redundant, but some new roles are created.”  

Regulation will force through change 

56% of respondents to the research survey think regulation will have a significant impact on the role of the accountant.  

Making Tax Digital has already pushed things forward in terms of digital accountancy and cloud accounting adoption. MTD for VAT has already caused large numbers of companies to switch to cloud platforms.  

We are expecting announcements from Government – possibly soon – about the next stage, which will drive even more change.  

In summary

The practical knowledge of Accounting Technicians is a key strength that will keep them relevant.

Solid knowledge of accounting processes is seen as highly desirable alongside cloud accounting.

However, accounting technicians must keep themseleves relevant by adding additional skills, such as presenting, negotiating and problem solving, along with ones with a more technical ‘edge’, such as data analytics.

A set of soft skills like adaptability and excellent human interaction coupled with technical knowledge, like key data analytics, form the necessary combination of skills for the success of accounting technicians in the future.

Khaled Ghalayin, global business development executive, Temenos

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The content team are the owners of AAT Comment.

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