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As Technology Progresses, Certain Accounting Jobs May Fade Away

S.J. Steinhardt
Published Date:
Mar 28, 2024

GettyImages-forensic accounting

As generative artificial intelligence (AI) takes over more mundane and repetitive tasks, some accounting jobs are at risk of disappearing, Accounting Today reported. But the accountants whose jobs are replaced become free to perform more high-value work. 

Previous generations experienced similar disruptions due to advances in technology. Jim Bourke, managing director of the advisory practice at Withum, recalled that a large part of his duties as a young accountant involved writing up financial information—books, statements, reports and other records.

"So, the historical role of accountants preparing the monthly books and records—that has tremendously changed because of the advent of systems like QuickBooks Online, Xero and NetSuite," he said in an interview with Accounting Today.

One job that is now obsolete is the audit associate, a person who manually pored over data samplings and documented the process. While the title may still exist in some places, the job is now done by advanced analytics tools, including AI-powered audit software.

So-called “crunchers”—those who prepare and process accounting data, such as bookkeepers, clerks, data enterers and reconcilers—may also fall by the wayside. Anyone involved in basic bookkeeping tasks that rely on scale to generate appreciable amounts of revenue, such as accounts receivable or payable specialists, financial report compilers and payroll professionals, may also be considered a cruncher.

"I would not want to be getting into the data entry career in accounting, because of automation and bank fees,” said Jeff Phillips, who co-founded accounting recruiter Accounting Fly and is CEO of Padgett Business Services, in an interview with Accounting Today. “I know AI is such a buzzword and that is what a lot of people talk about, but that will automate away any kind of data entry. Same with accounts receivable and payable clerks and how they're getting automated out of a job.”

Crunchers who are early in their careers have the opportunity to retain an accounting job if they adapt. They have more room to acquire new skills and pivot. But longtime "rock stars" who are extremely good at these data input and processing tasks “will be in trouble because those folks love doing what they're doing, but [there is] a limit on their capacity,” said Jody Grunden, partner and virtual CFO practice leader with Summit CPA, in an interview. “We've got several individuals in firms who don't want to be a CFO. They love being that senior-level accountant because it fulfills what they want to do, but as technology improves those folks will be limited in their value and will eventually be replaced.”

Based on what he has seen as a recruiter, Phillips told Accounting Today that it will be more of a slow attrition than a sudden wave of firings.

"Anything that seems like basic tracking and reconciling information is very much ripe for disruption, such as payroll, all those low-level services that firms breached, started to pursue because they were looking for other ways to increase profits besides audit and tax, and they will have a day of reckoning where I don't need your firm to do this stuff for me,” said Chris Vanover, leader of accounting talent solutions provider CPA Club, in an interview.

Phillips of Padgett Business Services said that any bookkeeping job not at risk from technology will be at risk from offshoring instead.

Beyond basic bookkeeping, another area that experts generally agreed was eventually on its way out was the process of gathering client data to fill and file a basic individual tax return.

“This doesn't mean we won't need tax people—there's a lot of businesses out there and a lot of complicated individuals that need advice,” Phillips said. “So, the tax individuals who come into our profession will serve a greater role by advising our clients on positions to take on hoping to minimize their tax liability. How are they going to do that? By leveraging generative AI, by leveraging technology, to give them that knowledge to get them in a better position.”

Generative AI will soon make research, another major task for accountants, obsolete as well, said Bourke of Withum.

"The area that's really ripe for that has to do with the amount of time we spend doing tax research, the amount of time we spend doing audit research, on technical issues,” he said “Now, through the use of generative AI, we have tremendously streamlined the process. So a young staff accountant who today would be tasked with that research could now be in another position of reviewing the memos prepared by generative AI."

Vanover pointed to the shrinking number of firms offering audit services as evidence that auditors may go from one of the more common specializations in the profession to something more niche. Many smaller firms have exited the auditing space completely, he said, because they can't compete with larger players who can drop millions on AI and machine learning tools.

With all of this in mind, any current or aspiring cruncher may want to think seriously about reskilling in order to better understand how technology works with the profession so that their skills can remain relevant.

Mike Policicchio, an audit partner at Ernst & Young, told Accounting Today that there are still some places for crunchers. While some routine tasks can be automated, not all of them can be, he told Accounting Today. For those that can't be automated, there is the need for a person, ideally one who is comfortable with repetitive, routine work, he said.

Jack Castonguay, vice president of learning and development with CPA exam prep company Surgent, and a Hofstra University accounting professor, told Accounting Today that the jobs of the future, even the ones focused on routine tasks, will require tech literacy.

A student at one of his seminars told him that she didn't want to learn "this tech stuff," saying, “I am an accounting major and I want to learn accounting.”

"And I came back to say accounting is now tech. If you don't have the tech skills or the ability to learn tech skills, you will be left out in the cold," he told Accounting Today. "We can no longer say, 'You handle the tech work and I handle the tax work. You handle the data analysis and I'll focus on this accounting standard.' It doesn't work like that anymore.”

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