Jun 24, 2022

Reflecting on the Future of the Profession

Zach KocisBy Zachary W. Kocis, PICPA marketing and communications coordinator

This year’s PICPA Annual Meeting on June 1 was special. To mark 125 years is no minor feat. For over a century, the PICPA has offered unmatched continuing education, leadership and mentoring opportunities, and advocacy for the profession. And the theme of this year’s meeting was clear: To ensure the PICPA remains a valuable resource for CPAs across Pennsylvania, it is essential for the organization to provide future-conscious information and opportunities for 21st century CPAs and for CPAs to embrace new changes in technology and business practices. To that end, Dr. Daniel Susskind, a fellow in economics at Oxford University and who has worked in various roles in the British government, was the keynote speaker at PICPA's 125th Annual Meeting where he shared his view on the future of the profession.   

CPA with client while robots do work in the background.Susskind began his talk highlighting several trends within the world of work generally that are becoming increasingly commonplace.  

  • Professionals are being asked to do more with less.  
  • Competition and innovation come from nontraditional sources, such as technology start-ups.
  • Work is shifting away from customized service.  
  • Work is now being thought of as individual task-based instead of a whole package.  
  • The process of routinization allows individual tasks to be automated.  

Human beings have limited understanding of the world around them. So, traditionally, they turn to professionals who have the expertise to help solve problems. Since the Industrial Revolution, society was print based, walled off, and managed. In the internet age, knowledge that had traditionally been held by professionals is now widely available and the related tools are easily accessible.   

The democratization of knowledge is leading to quick and reliable results. Companies are using broad data gathering algorithms to automate production. For example, the Associated Press is using this technology to report on company earnings. The result is up to 15 times more reports than if human financial journalist were the sole reporting source.  

So, what does this mean for the future of accounting?  

Well, one example would be PWC's Halo platform. Halo is reimagining the audit. It can process over 1 billion records, many times more than a traditional audit. The effect of the advancement is a more holistic picture because of the ability to process huge amounts of data and perform complex tasks quickly.  

Perhaps that sounds like machines are coming for your jobs, and that is not an uncommon projection. However, Susskind remarks that although the current view of technology and automation is that one day a robot will be sitting at your desk, this is not quite true. A study by McKinsey & Company found in a survey of 800 occupations in the United States, only 5% could ever be fully automated. From that standpoint, very few occupations would be at "extinction" risk. That said, almost every occupation has partial automation potential, involving individual tasks that could be automated in some way. What is likely to happen is that huge amounts of mundane work will be distilled into simple processes for technology, automation, and artificial intelligence.

A simple fact of computing power is that it is becoming increasingly capable, connected, and pervasive, meaning we are relying on technology to solve problems more and more. That's a good thing. Technology can approach problems from a different standpoint than human beings. In fact, Susskind says "the mistaken assumption that the only way to develop systems that perform tasks at the level of human beings or higher is to copy the way that human beings perform that task." This is evidenced in the technology systems that are driving advancement in the areas of accounting, banking, health care, and the media.  

And it’s not just those few business areas. As seen throughout the pandemic, so many occupations underwent a change in their work routines and did so with relative ease. Advancements in technology, a transition to remote work, and the new ways that we interact and communicate means that we are being confronted with these new technologies every day. There is always the choice to ignore or simply play down the effect of these new means. But Susskind feels that isn't the right answer. He said we should embrace the impact, explore new roles, and consider what uses technology has to supplement the future of work.  

So, to any CPAs reading this, consider Susskind's advice and embrace technology in your workplace. It can simplify processes and give you more time to grow. Change is coming, whether you want it or not.

Hear directly from Daniel Susskind in his TED talk, "3 Myths about the Future of Work (and Why They're Not True)." 

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Statements of fact and opinion are the authors’ responsibility alone and do not imply an opinion on the part of PICPA officers or members. The information contained in herein does not constitute accounting, legal, or professional advice. For professional advice, please engage or consult a qualified professional.