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Remember that moment in the movie I, Robot where you really want Will Smith’s character to believe that Sonny (the robot suspected of murder) is a feeling and compassionate being? I mean we know that Sonny only did what his human needed him to do to unspool the deeper problem, but Smith’s character can’t see it. All along we are cheering for this robot to help save humanity because he is so, well, human.
Whether you believe, or not, that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will replace many human actions, jobs or interactions, there is no fear of computers (or robots for that matter) replacing certified accountants or certified bookkeepers anytime soon. Why? Simply said, until robots and computers can think like Sonny did, there are some things only humans can do for other humans and their businesses. It’s that thinking process – the ability to look ahead, trust a gut reaction and see the flaws in what almost looks accurate that will keep these financial professionals in need.
Part of the belief that computers can replace a certified bookkeeper, certified tax accountant, certified management accountant or other roles has risen from the last decade of incredible advancement in the capability of accounting software. It isn’t really a matter of replacing a bookkeeper or accountant with software – the savvy business person recognizes what they really need is both. Each provides their own unique value.
Here are a few of the things people do better than software:
One area a certified tax accountant or others with tax knowledge beats out software is in tax planning and tax prep which are essential for small businesses. The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has some very complex tax laws. Someone specializing in this kind of accounting is better able to optimize tax laws in terms of write-offs, determining whether to run calendar year or fiscal year, and even what needs to be done to be most likely to avoid an audit.
Speaking of audits, they happen. Even to well-run, honest businesses. Software can print reports and provide numbers as well as do calculations and determine profit and loss but it can’t speak to a CRA auditor on your behalf. CRA isn’t the only auditor to have on your side, accountants and bookkeepers can do audits on your processes to find ways to create efficiencies and spot problems before they become fraud, theft or plain old carelessness. These internal audits help keep businesses ahead of the tax man.
With the growth of cloud-computing, financial professionals will grow into the role of advisors rather than those who enter and calculate numbers. Those who embrace the shift will make themselves important assets to their business customers while those who stick with old methods may find themselves as obsolete as an IBM electric typewriter. How? Through automation of entry. Gone will be manual entry and submission of expense forms. Instead, imagine employees scanning expenses in that will automatically be entered and tabulated while simultaneously being sent to their manager for approval. This is just one of many ways computers streamline the accounting process with cloud-based accounting software. It won’t matter where employees are so long as they can access the cloud.
Scanning technology is already making inventory calculations easier and soon will see the inventory process become fully automated and available from the cloud. Asset management and tracking is a similar item that will become easily automated.
With this change, accountants can put their efforts into planning, auditing and other higher level tasks. The efficiencies created by cloud-based accounting software won’t eliminate accountants, instead it will shift them into new roles because the basic tasks are taken care of. Think of it similarly to buying pre-washed, chopped and mixed salad. You’re still eating salad, it just takes a miniscule amount of time to prepare it, allowing you to focus on making the main course.
This extra time and enhanced role means accountants (who may be on staff with a company or may be a consultant) have time to bring better advice to companies to improve their chances for success. Because information is automated and cloud-based, it gives the accountant the materials needed to do this high-level kind of advising without worrying about the minutia. They can take time to spot trends, look for opportunities and other things computers and software simply can’t do – until such time they are able to have gut reactions.
When a company needs advice on the best way to set up a chart of accounts or whether to go with cash or accrual accounting, the obvious source of information is a certified accountant or certified bookkeeper. A software program can’t know what methods and formats will be best for a business now and into the future. This is another one of those places where the human touch matters.
By having that human touch and being able to identify needs going forward, accounting professionals give the advice a business needs to make the right decisions: whether to lease or buy the building, what kind of business loan to pursue or what percentage of cash flow is needed at different points in the business cycle.
Even with automation, some firms would rather farm out certain tasks like payroll, accounts-payable and reporting than have staff in place to do the jobs. Automation and cloud-based accounting will make these jobs easier plus they outcomes will be more transparent and fluid between a business and their accounting partners.
Certainly, it’s safe to say that the role of certified accountants and certified bookkeepers is safe, though it will need to change over time. To keep pace with these changes, courses like an online certified bookkeeper course are a great resource. Not only can these types of programs lead to accreditation by the Canadian Bookkeepers Association, students will also spend a considerable amount of time learning about computerized bookkeeping.
So, when the robot assistants come to help us with cooking, cleaning and every other mundane need, accountants and bookkeepers will need that computerized help at the end of their work day of helping businesses grow and succeed.