The rise of robots and AI will see 40 percent of Australian jobs disappear by 2025, according to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia.
Many companies, particularly large businesses, are already using robots to perform repetitive tasks, such as collecting groceries in warehouses or on assembly lines building equipment and other machines, while industries such as marketing have seen automation revolutionise the status quo.
As more industries look over their shoulder to find robots and automation looming, should traditional pillars of the economy like finance and accounting be worried about severe job losses?
Will robots take over accountancy?
Carl Reader, director of d&t Chartered Accountants and author of The Startup Coach, believes that private sector workers, including accountants, have only ‘scratched the surface’ of what they can achieve using technology, and predicts more jobs will be disrupted by AI in the near future.
“Many jobs that accountants will be doing in the next 20 years or so won’t have even been invented yet.
“If you look at accountancy 20 years ago, the vast amount of work involved paper records. With automated bank feeds and many processes going online, that’s pretty much become a thing of the past,” says Reader.
Paul Donno, managing director of 1 Accounts Online, agrees with Reader’s analysis of the industry and is already aware of the difference technology has made to accountancy.
“If you look at where our profession is now, it’s miles away from where it was two or three years ago. I think that the bookkeeping industry has already been hit very hard by things like the automation of account transactions – so already technology is making a big impact,” explained Donno.
Despite robots and computers already disrupting some accounting professionals, Donno believes they will have a positive effect on the industry in the long-term.
“We’ve trained to be advisers and our real work is helping a business grow. I’ve certainly seen first-hand that automation is already allowing us to spend more time with clients.”
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The time for robots has arrived
One person who knows more than most about the impact automation is having on the professional world is Kriti Sharma, VP of Bots and AI at Sage.
Sharma has dedicated her working life to innovating in the AI sector and has recently created Pegg, an accounting chatbot that businesses can use to manage their money more efficiently. Sharma believes that the time for robots to make a real impact on the professional world is now.
“For sure with bots, robots and AI – the time for them has arrived, it is no longer just a hype cycle that we’ve been discussing for years,” Sharma explained.
“AI is nothing new, the technology has been around for decades, but now what’s changing is the consumer adoption in our daily lives – we’re not apprehensive about having our days scheduled by something which isn’t human, we’re not scared of having robots complete tasks for our business, such as managing expenses.”
Sharma also believes the fear around robots taking jobs will not persist, arguing that the history books show we’ve already had to deal with similar types of adversity.
“This fear is nothing different to when personal computers first came about and we were worried about losing our jobs to them – there was a lot of scaremongering at the time about that happening. But what happened was that it made our lives easier – we can’t imagine our lives now without personal computing, so this fear is always the case when new technology appears.
“With every new wave of technology disruption, comes new opportunities. There will be a re-jig, we will have to upskill ourselves to live, and work with AI. Who knows, maybe the next hire I make may not be an actual person.”
Why accountants should upskill
For accountants, the need to upskill is inevitable, says Sharma, who believes they can play a future role in providing data security.
“I think that the repurposing will happen. If you look at other professions, such as marketing, journalism etc., they’ve had to redefine how they work because of technology, so this was always going to eventually affect the accountancy profession, it’s a fact of life.
“Online security is already so important and moving forward, we have to make sure our data is locked in and secure, so accountants and finance professionals could play a big role in that.”
It’s widely accepted that robots and AI are already disrupting the way we work. The question now is how long will it take before it redefines how accountants go about their daily business.