November 21, 2018

The AICPA Is Trying to Innovate You Right Out of a Job

statoil robots finance

As we are all painfully aware, the accounting industry isn’t exactly known for its groundbreaking commitment to early adoption and innovation. Despite its over 150-year history of being reactive and clinging desperately to the way things have always been, the AICPA announced this week a new initiative that hopes to fund important accounting startups.

The Association and CPA.com Startup Accelerator will seek to support as many as five early-stage companies during the next year. The focus will be on startups in two key areas:

  • Technology and financial information, which could include advances in artificial intelligence, automation of routine tasks, and the application of blockchain/digital ledgers; and
  • Professional competency innovation, which could encompass machine learning to personalize professional education, collaboration tools for mentors and experts, and improvements in measuring professional competency, among other categories.

“The Association and CPA.com have a deep base of knowledge and resources to offer entrepreneurs looking to find a foothold in the accounting ecosystem,” Lawson Carmichael, the Association’s executive vice president for strategy, people, and innovation, said in a news release. “And for us, the startup accelerator offers a chance to ‘see around corners’ and take a more long-range view of opportunities in business transformation and innovation. There’s a compelling business case for collaboration.”

Whoa, an AICPA Startup Accelerator? How did you totally miss the opportunity to call this XYZ Combinator? Come on, you guys!

Anyhoo, you’ll notice that first bullet point is especially dangerous, as so many careers within the profession are based solely on routine tasks. But hey, if someone can figure out to automate that process, awesome. Software doesn’t need a vacation, it doesn’t get pregnant, it doesn’t sue for sexual harassment, and it definitely doesn’t go on Going Concern trashing its employer. In other words, exactly what the firms want so they don’t have to put up with your crap.

Funnier still is that CPA.com’s president, CEO and weekend larper Erik Asgeirsson refers to this initiative as “Shark Tank” for startups. If you recall, Mr. Shark Tank himself Mark Cuban told SXSW in March that he believes automation will totally change the way we work, in a way that leaves those without critical thinking skills in the dust. “I would not want to be a CPA right now,” he said. “I would not want to be an accountant right now.” That statement did not sit well with the AICPA, who wrote a strongly-worded blog post in their own defense addressed to Cuban. (Because they do not mind getting defensive and then setting others straight.)

And yet, here they are just a handful of months later going all in on automation that could potentially demolish a large chunk of the profession. Think Fallout 5: Spreadsheet Jockey; melty-face ghoul accountants wandering the wasteland desperate for just one last tickmark.

We get it, accountants have to be relevant and innovation-y. But let’s remember who makes up the majority of your member base: human robots built on largely routine tasks. You might be wise not to elbow them out of the way so enthusiastically.

Image: iStock/leremy

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