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    Reminder: Robots Are Coming For Your Accounting Jobs

    By | May 27, 2015

    As you may have heard, THE MACHINES are taking over CPA jobs. But for accounting wizards like yourselves, you probably want some numbers to tell the story. Fair enough.

    Last week, Planet Money covered a 2013 study entitled The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?  It’s gotten attention in the accounting profession before, as Maryland Association of CPAs CEO Tom Hood mentioned it earlier this year in a post about avoiding the demise of accounting.

    Planet Money developed a handy guide that makes it easy to know which jobs have the greatest chance of being automated in the next 20 years.

    The researchers scored jobs on nine traits, but identified four they considered to be most important:

    1) Do you need to come up with creative solutions?
    2) Are you required personally to help others?
    3) Does your job require you to squeeze into small spaces?
    4) Does your job require negotiation?

    As you may have already guessed, accounting jobs didn’t fair so well. Here are some of the more accounting-y jobs the study covered and their percentage likelihood of automation:

    • Tax preparers — 98.7%
    • Bookkeepers — 97.6%
    • Budget analysts — 93.8%
    • Accountants and auditors — 93.5%
    • Market research analysts — 61.3%
    • Financial analysts — 23.3%
    • Financial examiners — 17%
    • Financial managers — 6.9%

    Now before you fly off the handle the post says, “researchers admit that the estimates are rough and likely to be wrong,” but it’s hard to argue that automation isn’t becoming a bigger part of accounting. What’s even more concerning is that with the enrollment of accounting majors going up year after year, it’s almost a certainty that the skills of a large number of students are becoming more and more irrelevant while the accounting jobs of the future haven’t been invented yet.

    And that’s exciting! Or terrifying! So the question is, while Roy Batty keeps the numbers humming, will human accountants evolve into something we won’t recognize or a become rare species like Amur Leopardsor charming men? Discuss your thoughts.

    Will Your Job Be Done By A Machine? [Planet Money via @BlakeTOliver]
    Earlier: Now That Auditing Is Joining The 21st Century, What Will It Be Like?

    • Makes sense. Audit teams are probably smaller now due to automation as well as offshoring “grunt” work to India. Ditto with the accounting teams at the clients themselves.

      Doesn’t really bother me all that much. The types of job that are being eaten up are all low skilled labor anyhow.

      And high enrollment rates in accounting also don’t scare me. I’ve been out of school for a while now. As we all know now, most of the good jobs in this field come from having the right kind of experience and name pedigree on your resume. Not from fresh new faces right out of college.

      If anything, the ones that should be worried are the students graduating from school in the next few years. Especially the ones who got into accounting because “it’s less of a people person job”.

      • buthurt

        Actually the size of audit teams might not have changed much since PCAOB kept coming out with all these BS comments/findings, and audit teams responded by shipping grunt work to India since the client was unwilling to pay for the extra hours. By that logic, more work will be shipped to overseas/robots in the future, but PCAOB will also create more nonsense for us to look at.

        • True dat. Maybe smaller teams is not the right way to put it. “Less Staff hours” is probably more accurate.

          When I was a staff we worked and worked and worked. There was never a point where there wasn’t something to do. Now we ship so much to India that we’re sometimes asking “do we have enough for XYZ staff to do?”. If not, we send them home early.

          That’s bizarre to me, and literally never happened a few years back. Dunno, maybe it’s my personal experience, but it just seems that way to me.

          • buthurt

            Oh yeah we let staffs go early all the time. Staffs these days can pull it off fairly easy, and they get crushed immediately during their first senior year

    • JessterCPA

      Do accounting robots burn in hell?

      • N.E.R.D.

        Not the ones made by wholesome Christian companies. Think Hobby Lobby.

        • MWCPA

          Yeah but those damn HL Balsa Wood AccountBots crumble anytime the humidity gets above 50%.

    • PwCASSociate

      If it’s not the people overseas, it’s the robots. Why does everyone want our shitty jobs?

    • drive_like_jehu

      I’m skeptical about the machines. Computing power has increased greatly over the years, but fundamental software capabilities haven’t changed that much aside from the benefits provided by processing speed and storage. I’ve heard that Excel used to have a stupidly small number of rows, and having a lot of rows is definitely a big improvement, but I doubt it eliminated many jobs.

      Not to mention, increased automation can cut both ways. Tax authorities will have an easier time looking for things to audit, and regulatory agencies will adjust their standards based on what should be possible with modern technology. Heck, maybe one day auditors will be required to provide actual assurance on financial information.

    • Chris

      Fuck it. You can have my meaningless job.

    • bob2222

      And the DoL says accounting jobs are going up in the next ten years relative to jobs overall. I’d trust their judgement over an arbitrary study. Low level accounting work (AR/AP etc.) may become automated in 20 years but certainly not 90%+ of the industry. Though the work that could be automated really should have been automated already. We have the computing power to do so for data entry type AP jobs.

      • ImposterSyndrome

        I think the 90%+ they were talking about is how likely the job is to become automated – not the percentage of automation. For example, tax preparers might be 98.7% susceptible to automation, but maybe only 20% of them are actually going to be replaced by robots.

    • ImposterSyndrome

      I can definitely see tax preparers and bookkeepers becoming quickly irrelevant. We’re nearly there already. At the firm I interned with over this last busy season, we basically had robots preparing tax returns. You just scan the documents in and the computer recognizes the form, the text, and knows exactly were to code the numbers. My job was just to make sure the computer didn’t go dyslexic or mistake a comma for a decimal point.

      I don’t see auditors or analysts going out the window too quickly. Computing power is amazing, but every now and then you need someone to analyze something that isn’t simply based on numbers. We need people to make qualitative decisions, and we need customer interaction, so the less tedious and monotonous jobs will always need people.

      • Spectrum

        Where was that? And what type of software were they using? I could see this with more basic returns, but some of the investment portfolios I deal with…. I have no idea how a machine would know which numbers to put in amongst the 40+ pages of numbers. Scanning 1099s, yes, but not the more detailed stuff. And unfortunately, how are you going to train people to know where to put the complicated stuff if they are never asked to enter info from a basic 1099?

        • ImposterSyndrome

          It was at CliftonLarsonAllen. I’m not sure exactly what the software was, we just called it AutoFlow. Surprisingly, it could understand and input the brokerage statements and stock sales pretty well. It would plop everything in an Excel sheet for you and you just had to double check that the totals were right and then click the tax software to import the schedule into the Sch D.

          If the formats were non-standard or there were special investment expenses and things you had to pull out individually, it wouldn’t necessarily find or import those numbers for you, so I still had to page through a bunch of numbers, but I didn’t have to spend time tallying or typing out stock sales.

    • Reasonable Assurance

      will I become a robot-auditor repairman? Fuck it, sounds better than being an auditor.

      • Reasonable Assurance’s Broseph

        True Dat, Broseph!

    • LikeABoss

      it’s simple economics. accounting is an administrative function. As such, companies aren’t going to be jumping all over themselves to spend money to automate something that they’re already paying internal staff, or an external accounting firm to do for them. You can automate bookkeping and tax prep until the cows come home, but no matter how much you stream line, the ROI is zero, b/c it’s a necessary byproduct of doing business, not a revenue generating exercise. Until accounting firms start charging businesses what they’re actually worth (which should drive up the salaries of accounting staff), and until partners start pushing back on bullshit menial tasks that they shouldn’t engage to do in the first place, what exactly would the motivation be for companies to go wild with automation?

    • taxintern

      tax prep is basically already at full automation. on a b4 level you get paid mostly to review the return for classification/judgement calls/lengthy calcs that involve a lot of data.