a.What your group have research about current and future technology, accountant skills and ethics and career opportunities for those who pursue accounting careers?
b.What information has surprised your group ?
c.The technology, the accountant skills, the ethics and the career opportunities your group have researched may reflect an Australian viewpoint. Choose a country that members of your group may have an interest in, or knowledge about. Briefly discuss what aspects of the technology, the accountant skills, the ethics the career opportunities would have to be considered and what changes/adaptations your group might need to make.
d.What is your group opinion on the value of studying/taking accounting courses?
The Role of Accounting Technology in Business Evaluation Throughout Time
Undoubtedly, the accounting sector is undergoing a radical transformation and technology lies at the heart of this change. Regular tasks that once consumed hours to complete, and yielded major part of the company’s revenue, are now addressed in a fraction of the time with automation facilitated by cloud accounting software and solutions. The present report takes a deeper look at what this means for accountants and the accounting profession. The ensuing paragraphs talk in detail about the prevalent technology, currently needed accountant ethics and skills and career opportunities pertaining to several accounting designations. In addition to this, the report presents a discussion about how future technological innovation will impact the accounting sector.
For every accountant, accounting is the language of business. This language has experienced several modifications throughout time. However, through all these transitions, accounting technology has always had an instrumental role in making the job of an accountant easier. With the increase in knowledge of technology, there was an increase in the ability of the accountant to evaluate statistical values. Currently all accounting firms and professionals value to the importance of the Internet. It is being used for executing crucial business processes (Huber, 2015). Cloud computing i.e. online running of applications instead of on consumers’ premises is among the most significant developments in technology in the last decade.
Accounting software has become prominent in almost all large-scale industries, and the accounting software providers are increasingly targeting SMEs. In fact, some of the major providers like MYOB are based in Australia. Currently, cloud computing and mobile devices dominate the discussion on the most crucial technologies for accountants. These are referred to as pervasive computing, and with these, the accountants are increasingly using mobile devices for accessing cloud applications, data and communications. Such connectivity helps the accountants in Australia to exchange information with customers more properly and work more effectively. These applications carry the potential of commoditizing conventional accounting work (Taylor, 2016). A majority of it is striving to automate the basic, customary accounting, which is then compelling accountants to re-assess how they offer value to clients. Such technologies have reshaped the sector from a compliance based on reliance based experience. Therefore there are several ways in which accountants can use technology to be able to expand the services offered by them. Technology now provides mobility to accountants, 24/7 access and visibility of customers’ data. Such improved operations provide the firms and professionals with the basis for developing and broadening the service offerings (Axson, Mistry and Nanson, 2016).
Current Technology Trends in the Accounting Sector
In Australia, a growing proportion of accounting companies is moving some trivial part of their accounting operations overseas to nations like the Philippines where labour charges are as low as $7 per hour as compared to $60-$80 in Australia. Technology has enabled this offshore accounting revolution, with cloud-based applications of MYOB, QuickBooks and Xero rendering it easier for Australian accounting firms to connect with their overseas staff. However, the number of companies especially SMEs using cloud technology was still relatively low till two years back because of a shortage of strong choices in the cloud (Bigornia, 2017). Cloud-based applications were secondary to local installations restricted due to flexibility and strength. However, with major changes brought by the accounting software providers moving data to the cloud has business sense. The accountants get access to the files more conveniently, saving the client and accountant’s time.
The potential to leverage the most recent in cloud-based applications through platforms – like MYOB and Xero accounting packages – has radically changed the companies and even the whole bookkeeping and accounting sector (Taylor, 2016). For instance, it has altered the functioning of B2B on-site consultations, as regular visits were seen as a way of connecting bookkeeper and client. However, with accounting software packages of these companies, the bank feeds can now be incorporated in real-time so that both the customer and the accountant can review, edit and make additions to the statements. The bookkeepers can also download transactions directly from the client’s credit card and bank accounts for composing the most precise invoices and statements (Pepe, 2011).
OCR i.e. Optical Character Recognition is another technology which is being increasingly used in the accounting profession. This technology has rendered a scanner in the office more useful than just photocopying. OCR converts images into editable and readable text. For accountants, this technology finally eliminates hand-entered receipt. The accountants now upload the receipts they receive onto an online accounting platform, extract the pertinent data and text along the way. This technology is evolving continuously with enabling the use of less and less time for document processing. Though OCR has already improved manifolds, there is still enough likelihood for process improvement (Pepe, 2011).
From accountant to finance technician and tax analyst to controller, all designations have their own skill requisites. These skills also differ based on the level of responsibility. While people employed in junior positions may focus on book-keeping, posting transactions, data entry and issuance of checks, senior employees in the division may need to execute new accounting policies, work with external auditors and regulators, build mechanisms for financial reporting and prepare financial statements and budgets. Managerial jobs demand specific competencies and skills such as ensuring conformity to policies, management of schedules and projects, training and appraising staff and supervising (Drew, 2012).
Skills Needed for Different Designations in the Accounting Profession
Similar to other jobs, accounting and finance positions need a complete set of soft skills. Nearly every designation in the field outlines multi-tasking, communication skills, problem-solving and analytical proficiencies, organisational skills, team working, and the ability to work under pressure as well as without supervision. Especially important for employees managing company finances are attributes such as precision, greatly developed sense of confidentiality and discretion and attention to detail. Besides this, regardless of what designation is being advertised for the vacancy, candidates will not get far in the absence of expertise in MS Office suite, especially Excel. In addition to this, they also need to be familiar with accounting-specific software modules like QuickBooks, SAP, MYOB, Great Plains, Audit Command Language and tax preparation software (Suddaby, Saxton and Gunz, 2015). Skills required currently for different designations in accounting profession are as follows:
General Accountants – As the accounting regulations and tax laws are getting complex and confusing, companies look for experienced professionals who have deep knowledge of tax law and remain updated on the modifications to circumvent fines and penalties.
Accounting Clerks – Potential job seekers for this position only need high school education and basic computer and math skills.
Accounting Managers – Currently, employers are looking for accounting managers who are knowledgeable about regulatory changes, finance and accounting principles (Drew, 2015). Potential aspirants for this position need to have great managerial competencies, sound communication skills and the knack of interpreting financial data and provide strategic recommendations.
The nature of the work undertaken by CPAs in Australia and other professional accountants – including accounting, auditing and tax compliance – immense demand level of ethics: existing and future stakeholders and other users of financial statements of companies depend extremely on such financial statements to make rational decisions. CPA Australia members hold accountability to act and serve in the interest of the public and conform to the basic principles of confidentiality, due care, professional competence, objectivity, integrity and display of professional attitude in all dealings. APES 110 is the Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants in Australia which is developed to help professional accountants across the industry in accessing the germane sections of the code more effectively (Walsh, 2014).
With the adoption of technology in the accounting profession, employers are currently demanding qualified accounting professionals with experience in the local market and a demonstrated track record of working coherently across their companies, determining cost savings and accepting digital technology innovations for achieving corporate objectives. Such qualified accounting and finance candidates, with apparent niche skills, are likely to enjoy higher full-time job opportunities with the intensification of the war for talent. As companies stay challenged for the long term, the continuing trend of fix-term contract roles consistent with business initiatives and projects remains (Susskind and Susskind, 2015). Most finance and accounting candidates are now habitual of working in this style, and this trend will continue for some time. The New South Wales accounting jobs market is powerful across the board with unswerving demand for both commercial and chartered candidates. Currently, there is a highly sensitive chartered market complexed by continued mid-level attrition. At the other end, the commercial market is witnessing a high recruitment stage across myriad designations and positions (Sheedy, 2016).
Ethics and Accountability for Professional Accountants in Australia
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been incorporated in several industries, from hospitals to stock trading and as per Google, this is the next big thing. AI and robotics are reinventing the workforce fundamentally. The accounting industry, provided its great dependence on huge amounts of data and numbers, is an important candidate for automation provided by intelligent learning systems. However, while this may imply good things for digital transformation and efficiency, it may also raise concerns about humans being replaced by robots. The driving factors behind the integration of AI in accounting processes are volume capacity, higher speed and precision of computers as compared to their living counterparts (O’Neil, 2016). AI and other automation tools can read innumerable pages of agreements and contracts and summarise them very quickly, instantly and virtually based on the criteria given to them. In fact, big companies which have started using AI, state that it has come to a level where machines are able to scale human proficiency by pulling information from multifaceted documents. It identifies data accurately by learning from examples as opposed to mere reflexive identification of pre-programed clauses (Andon, Free and Scard, 2015). An analysis by Deloitte studied the impact all industries worldwide can expect, forecasting the loss of almost half a million accounting jobs to automation, however, a substantial economic gain in higher skilled jobs. More advancements in technology, like RPA i.e. Robotic Process Automation are impacting jobs where accuracy in repetitive tasks is imperative like managing financial operations and book-keeping (Reams, 2016).
Automation will transform the accounting profession. The industry is rapidly approaching an age of “no-code accounting” i.e. completely zero data entry. However, this is not only what automation will do for accounting firms in the future. AI is likely to prioritise the next day’s work and offer the companies insight about their clients, allowing them to redefine the role of bookkeepers and accountants in a way which is more appealing to the companies and more valuable for their customers. The data entry part of book-keeping has been almost removed by cloud accounting and automation eco-systems (CTI Reviews., 2016). Machine learning can be considered as sub category of artificial intelligence which is developed to identify patterns and precisely forecast the outcomes. At present, only a small version of machine learning is being employed to accounting software. However, this is likely to change in the near future. With further advancement in this technology, software providers are likely to incorporate it in application to emphasise anomalies and patterns automatically. This will allow the book-keepers and accountants who are applying latest technologies to deliver more value to the clients (Ford, 2015).
Career Opportunities in the Accounting Sector
At its core, accounting entails the processing of huge amounts of data which is assimilated, collected, presented and utilised to give accountability and take informed decisions. Cognitive learning and automation are apparently a perfect match for a sector with a high dependency on merging human intelligence with huge amounts of data and numbers. Artificial intelligence in accounting is likely to surpass the likes of defined calculations and process automation to the simulation of human intelligence (O’Neil, 2016).
Despite the benefits offered by advancing technology to the accounting function, there are several limitations which can impact the accounting firms negatively. These include the following:
Security – Data protection and security are a major threat in cloud accounting software because the circulation of data is unregulated across the entire globe. The safety of the accounting information in such a program is restricted to the quality of such program. A program which is poorly protected exposes the accounting and financial information to hackers and approved personnel (Kshetri, 2013).
Limitations of automation – While automation helps in saving time, it may create roadblocks if the information is not fed correctly. The automatic processing of those figures can imply errors down the line in different items and reports generated by the system. Many accounting software packages contain bugs which can also lead to potential issues (Xiao and Xiao, 2013).
Accounting technology cannot substitute the requirement for accountants and does not pose a risk to their livelihood. In fact, it gives them the opportunity of becoming a more reliable advisor. Technology offers accounting firms and professionals the chance to unbridle their real potential and re-bundle their services as business advisory. Hence, instead of threatening the sector, it breathes exuberance in it. Accounting professionals are now pushed to acquire novel skills and competencies because of progress that technology has made in their sector. These accounting professionals now need to have a great level of technical and computer skills. These competencies have become core elements of the abilities and knowledge of accountants (Pan and Seow, 2016). The skills and knowledge imperative for entry-level jobs in accounting profession now entail the integration and application of technology in accounting functions and managerial and financial accounting principles. Hence present day’s accountants not just need to have extensive accounting skills and a robust ability to apply accounting principles, interpret tax laws and government regulations; they should also possess sufficient competency in IT, to be able to combine accounting with technological systems. Such accounts have a higher demand in the industry. Automation is likely to lead accounting professionals who are ready to adapt to a prosperous and bright future (Murphy, 2015).
The Future of Technology in the Accounting Industry
Future accountants will need to possess an efficient computer, and cloud-based skills, such as financial databases and Microsoft applications. If they keep their abilities up-to-date, stay connected to their field through networking and are digitally literate, accountants are likely to see ongoing success in their careers (Drew, 2015). The traditional finance job positions are likely to demand new-founded skills as explained below:
Financial Controller – They must be able to focus on real-time and preventive control instead of depending on detective controls. They should be able to manage outcomes and not processes.
Accounting Clerk – They ought to be capable of concentrating on exceptions because regular work is becoming automated. Moreover, they must be able to show higher collaboration with other accounting operations (Pepe, 2011).
New roles will be emerging in finance and accounting. These include:
Data Scientists – They will need to have the skill to comprehend and manipulate huge amounts of data from external as well as internal sources. They should have in-depth knowledge of the industry to pose the correct questions of the data.
Scenario Planner – This role would require the candidates to possess the ability to determine possible scenarios, the stimulators for those scenarios and the proficiency of running several models at the same time (Henry and Hicks, 2015).
Eventually, what the cloud accounting and AI revolution truly facilitate is not a future where machines will replace accountants, and the human element will be out of a job, but a valuable and worthwhile opportunity for accounting professionals to support their clients in ways which were not present even 5 years back. Just by being ready to accept value pricing, automation and cloud accounting with open hands, today’s accountants can play an instrumental role tomorrow. In the very near future, companies will be able to afford strong CFO counsel without paying a permanent employee (Cernusca and Balaciu, 2015). All the time-consuming and menial tasks which used to consume a considerable amount of time will be eliminated – a virtue or victim of the process of automation. However, this will not rule out the necessity of accountants but instead, empower them. It will provide them lean time and help them focus on serving the clients better. With such modifications, there is a transition in part played by accountants in working with the clients. Such move will speed up as more companies shift to the cloud and automation. Several accounting professionals are already riding this wave and will prosper, however, the rest may fail to upgrade their skills and end up losing their jobs (Macleod, 2016).
The demand for Payroll Officers, Financial Analysts, Assistant Accountants, Cost Accountants, Business System Analysts and Finance Managers across Australia is likely to intensify in the near future. Demand for knowledgeable and experienced Business Analysts is likely to be high, and companies will prefer candidates with Pronto, SAP and/or Oracle proficiency. With the advancement of technology, the ethical responsibilities of accounting professionals also increase. As they would be working on cloud applications etc., they must maintain the confidentiality of the data and must not give access to such information to any unauthorised person. Furthermore, they must not exploit the sensitive accounting and financial information they have access to (Traistaru, 2016).
The group feels that accounting jobs will continue being in demand in the upcoming years because of the growing nature of corporate financial concerns. Several companies will hire accounting personnel to make sure that balances and checks and accounting services comply industry standards. Due to the growing number of corporate scandals and audits, firms would require more qualified accounting professionals to prevent any errors that may weaken their image. The group opines that the constant influx of AI and machine learning into the accounting workforce is not going to overthrow employees, rather there is a tipping point for accounting jobs on the horizon. With the automation of routine tasks, accounting professionals will become free to concentrate on discretion intensive functions. Though some menial jobs will be eliminated but other will transform, and novel jobs will also emerge. In fact, CPAs and certified cost accountants will get higher salaries in the coming years if they keep themselves updated with technology. Hence, accounting courses must be undertaken.
It can be concluded that the accounting firms should reinvent their organisational roles and constructs to strike an ideal balance between functions performed by machines and humans. Accounting professionals should understand that in the years to come, their job will start when the report gets delivered. It should be apparent that the value of their evaluation is only as efficient as the company’s capability to interpret and act upon it. They ought to view themselves as stewards rather than mere numbers.
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