Rise of the robots is the advent of accounting

In a speech to Liverpool University, Bank of England chief Mark Carney estimated that up to 15 million of the current jobs in Britain could be automated over time, with whole professions—including accounting—eliminated.

John Williams, head of ACCA UK, responds:

Mr Carney is absolutely correct in noting the huge impact that automation will have on the accounting profession. However, I wholly disagree with the notion that the ‘rise of the robots’ signals the end of accounting. And if artificial intelligence did signal the end of accountants, it would also signal the end of central bankers! 
Robotic process automation refers to software that performs repetitive processes and interacts with multiple applications, all under the control of a human manager. It is a natural next-step in the evolution of finance transformation, but it is not capable of building relationships, or replacing all systems and staff.
The accounting profession is facing a unique opportunity: digital is enabling the traditional finance function to shift up the value chain, from score keeper and caretaker to communicator and business partner. Transactional tasks are being outsourced, and cost effectively so, and opportunities have been freed up for professional accountants to become business partners.
Accountants are at the front line of change, and our profession has a huge role to play in ensuring that we embrace technological changes, and use them to efficiently run Britain’s businesses. This is not a new situation: if you roll back the clock 25 years or so, Carney may have been predicting the end of accountants via the introduction of software packages like SAP and Oracle. But, as is evident today, the accountancy profession both survived and thrived.
I am not saying that there will not be transitional issues, as the changing profession raises new talent dynamics and creates a possible career divide. Technicians in particular will have to expand their existing skillsets to adapt, and the profession may encounter succession challenges in the medium term.
However, ACCA research shows that the next generation of accountants are aware and ready. According to our recent Generation Next survey of 18,000 finance professionals under the age of 36, more than half (57%) believe that technology will replace entry level roles in the profession, and the majority (84%) welcome this, saying that technology will enable them to focus on higher value-added activity.
Technology is not a threat to our accountants: it’s an opportunity. The accountants of the future will be highly trained in digital and ethical skillsets, and they will need these to manage the automated entry-level, as they focus on creating broader, more strategic value for Britain’s businesses.

The full Generation Next report is available here.