The Accounting Profession’s Future: Who’s Safe, Who’s Not

Across GC articles concerning the future of the accounting profession, there’s hefty debate about who’s going to be affected by these changes and how.

To be clear most of my headspace is preoccupied with the battle for small to medium businesses in general practice, which does not encompass the entire profession.

Across GC articles concerning the future of the accounting profession, there’s hefty debate about who’s going to be affected by these changes and how.

To be clear most of my headspace is preoccupied with the battle for small to medium businesses in general practice, which does not encompass the entire profession.

So without further ado, here’s my take on the profession at large:

Firms:

  • Big 4: Safe — All the technology in the world will not eliminate the insane complexity of audit or specialist areas of accounting, particularly for multinational corporate clients. The biggest threat seems to be coming from tier two firms competing on big jobs.
  • Tier Two: Moderately Disrupted — While these tier two firms will be winning more work at the higher end of town, they will be missing work on the smaller end of town. Most partners I have spoken to in this area aren’t losing sleep over this as the bigger jobs are typically more profitable anyway.
  • The Rest: Heavily Disrupted — Smaller shops are expected to face increased competition from new market entrants as well as the rise of substitute services. These new entrants come with better technology, leaner cost structures and are offering better service or value for money. At the moment this competition is still geographically contained, much like a virus, but it won’t be that way for long.
  • Niched Firms: Safe — The exception to this would be boutique firms that are niched into a specific market or area of practice (or both). For example a firm that specializes in dental practices is going to fair much better than a generalist shop.

Accountants:

  • Partners: It depends — Obviously partner’s careers are tied to the firms they’re operating in, so if you’re Big 4 or Tier Two, it’s business as usual. If you’re a partner in a three partner generalist firm, expect a bumpy road ahead.
  • Specialists: Safe — Accountants who specialize in complex areas are going to be safe, and highly sought after by employers. Regulatory complexity paired with unique client circumstances will ensure that this work can neither be outsourced or automated.
  • Client Facing/Fee Winning: Safe — Who doesn’t love a good rainmaker! All of the offshoring and the automation in the world will not disrupt the client sales and service function across all tiers of practice.
  • Managers/Senior Staff: Moderately Disrupted — Like partners, I believe that it will depend on what type of firm you are working for. All firms will be making an effort to retain this level of staff to shore up a succession pipeline. Management skills will be more important now and more than ever especially if you’re working across complex matters with a geographically dispersed team. If anything, the biggest risk here is these staff rage-quitting and setting up their own shop.
  • Entry Level/Graduates: Under Threat — Much of the scut work palmed off to grads and newbies is now being offshored or automated. While firms still need a to build a talent/succession pipeline, I believe this area is going to more competitive as firms begin get more selective on candidates and double down on the “up or out” mentality.

Keen to hear your thoughts. How do you like your chances in surviving the Accountapocalypse?

More from Accounting Futurist Chris Hooper:
The End Is Nigh: Prepare Yourselves for the Accountapocalypse
A Five Forces Analysis of The Accounting Profession

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