CPA INSIDER

Rise of tech requires CPAs to trust in human abilities

As more rote tasks become automated, accountants need to develop the interpersonal skills and creativity that technologies such as artificial intelligence can’t replicate.
By Amy Vetter, CPA/CITP, CGMA

Every year, the AICPA and CPA.com gather top executives from the accounting software vendor community along with accountants, media members, and thought leaders. Over the course of a couple of days, attendees hear from experts and discuss the future of technology and how the vendors can work with CPAs — and even one another — in innovative ways to move forward together.

The 2019 AICPA/CPA.com Executive Roundtable took place recently in New York, and I was privileged to attend as one of the invited thought leaders. This year's event had a laser focus on audit and compliance services, covering topics such as data-driven audits powered by artificial intelligence and how to create more future-proof firms.

At the roundtable, AICPA President and CEO Barry Melancon, CPA, CGMA, referenced the 2018 World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report, which lists accountants and auditors (as well as accounting, bookkeeping, and payroll clerks) among the jobs most likely to decline due to automation. That assessment, however, is based on the assumption that the accounting profession won't be able to adapt as technology automates manual, repetitive accounting tasks. Fortunately, that assumption is flawed.

Accounting remains one of the most trusted professions out there, with the Center for Audit Quality's 2018 Main Street Investor Survey finding that 80% of investors expressed confidence in independent audit committees and 81% showed confidence in public company auditors. The accounting profession remains highly trusted because of what has always been true and will continue to be: Technology can never replicate our human advice and connection.

Even better, technology creates an opportunity for accountants to invest more in doing what we do best — advising clients to help them succeed and, in the process, building even greater trust.

The key to taking advantage of this opportunity is education. According to the previously mentioned World Economic Forum jobs report, workers will need an average of 101 days of retraining and upskilling over the five-year period ending in 2022 — about 20 days per year ­— to keep pace with technological advancements. The top skills in demand include analytical thinking and innovation, active learning and learning strategies, creativity, originality, initiative, technology design and programming, and critical thinking.

Accounting leaders need to review how we're currently training our teams so that we're ready for this shift in technology and can take advantage of what it offers. This supports what I have previously written about in my articles about striving to be cherished, treasured, and an adviser that your clients (or employers) can't imagine living without.

While we need to continue to dedicate learning budgets to regulatory training and technology skills, we need to ensure that we are also dedicating the same amount of time to interpersonal, creative, and analytical skills. In his book "A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future", author Daniel H. Pink explores how strengthening your creative side for the purpose of innovation is something that will become more and more valuable as we move into the "Conceptual Age," when the ability to create something new will be more valuable than ever.

Pink argues that left-brained, more logically thinking people have important skills but that those skills have greater opportunity to be outsourced or automated in the future. As such, it is important that we create training programs that give CPAs of all brain types the opportunity to learn and hone right-brain skills, such as being artistic, inventive, and able to see the big picture. We need to be intentional and strategic about this education because many of these skills aren't always top of mind or prioritized as we run to keep up with ever-changing regulations and fast-evolving technology trends.

While humans tend to be left-brain or right-brain dominant, it's important to remember that the two sides of our brain work together and that everyone can strengthen their "right-brain" skills. With that in mind, I encourage you to rethink and revise your learning plan this year to include interpersonal and analytical skills, with that "20 days of upskilling per year for the next five years" in mind. Begin building skill sets that may make you a little uncomfortable at first but will have a major impact on the future sustainability of your career and business.

Training topics to consider include project management and soft skills such as collaboration and active listening. Adding in nontraditional training, such as painting or even music, can start building the creativity muscle that powers the innovative thinking to create and deliver new service lines.

Of everything I took away from the AICPA/CPA.com Executive Roundtable, the one through-line that was clear was that no matter what advancements are made in technology, no machine can take the place of human creativity and connection. By investing in developing human skills now, you will be better positioned to reap the benefits of technological advances.  

Amy Vetter, CPA/CITP, CGMA, is the CEO of The B3 Method Institute, a keynote speaker and adviser, Technology Innovations Taskforce leader for the AICPA's Information Management Technology Assurance (IMTA) Executive Committee, and the author of the book Integrative Advisory Services: Expanding Your Accounting Services Beyond the Cloud, published by Wiley. Learn more at amyvetter.com. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Jeff Drew, senior editor, at Jeff.Drew@aicpa-cima.com.

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