For the past several years, everyone has been talking about “robo-accountants.” Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and automation are taking on an increasing amount of work in accounting firms.
However, it’s clear that clients still value things that technology can’t provide, such as empathy, nuance, and a human touch. Accountants with these skills can be augmented by technology to do more with less. But what about the other people in your firm?
I’ve noticed that many people avoid talking about what will happen to the administrative roles as accounting firms see an uptick in automation. Rather than avoid the conversation, I believe we should talk about it and start creating strategies to help these valued members of our teams upgrade their roles in our firms.
Traditional admin roles
Traditional administrative support roles have been becoming scarcer for years – especially since the 2008 recession. According to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics by The New Republic, although the economy added more than 10 million jobs once the company began recovering from the recession, women (who fill about three-quarters of all administrative support positions) lost a total of 1.6 million admin support jobs.
While automation can’t fully replace human workers, over time, automation will be able to perform more and more of the tasks that make up an administrative professional’s job. Many of the tasks that used to be handled by the admin team have already been partially or fully automated, such as:
- Processing and assembling tax returns and financial statements
- Checking on e-file acceptance status
- Sending quarterly estimate reminders
- Preparing engagement letters and other client correspondence
- Mailing invoices and tax organizers
- Scheduling appointments for partners and other professionals
- Maintaining project tracking spreadsheets
- Organizing and maintaining client files
Admins who have been able to keep their jobs are often asked to do more, and while that may serve the firm in the short-term, it doesn’t elevate the role or deploy their skill in a way that leverages their thinking capabilities.
The new admin role
Automating routine tasks doesn’t have to make the admin role redundant. Instead of letting automation happen to them, train them to take on more of a paraprofessional role.
We recently worked with a firm to create a sample job description for the new admin role. Some of the essential skills, duties and responsibilities we identified during the process include:
- Effectively interfacing with clients, personnel, and service providers
- Client onboarding
- Spearhead and update workflow processes, including identifying processes that can be automated
- Collaborating with engagement team members to create and automate audited financial statements, documents, analyses and audit reports
In the firms of yesterday, admin professionals had little if any client contact. But as firms’ hierarchical structure changes from a pyramid to a diamond, admins and other employees at all levels of the firm will need to be comfortable with client interaction. This will add value to the firm and to the clients.
If you have valuable admin team members in your firm, don’t avoid progress to avoid making roles obsolete. Consider their skill sets and identify gaps that exist in your firm that could use those skills.
The resolution will vary from firm to firm, but we’re responsible for coming up with a strategic plan to elevate these roles and deploy people’s skills in ways that leverage their thinking and feeling capabilities – something that technology is not able to automate.
So what does your admin team of the future look like? Take the time to identify their skillsets in a way that gives your admin team more responsibility and brings more value to your team, and you’ll realize we’ll all have more opportunities to do some pretty awesome things.
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