Tech advances are not new. Financial Management magazine's early forerunner, The Cost Accountant, described in June 1922 how the Hollerith or Powers systems for "electrical tabulating and sorting ... have already revolutionised the routine and multiplied the efficiency in a large number of important cost and statistical offices".
Forward almost 100 years, and cognitive technologies and robotisation are making a huge impact on accounting — both in increasing the efficiency of basic processing tasks and removing errors.
Advances clearly go far beyond these basic tasks. Finland-headquartered software and services company Tieto was one of the first to appoint an AI robot — Alicia T — to the leadership team of its data-driven businesses unit. According to the unit's head, Ari Järvelä, this move was to enable decisions that humans "don't necessarily think of — and perhaps create something yet unforeseen".
There is no real consensus, however, on the effect these technologies will have on the number of jobs in the future.
A view put forward by the McKinsey Global Institute is that between 400 million and 800 million workers globally could lose their jobs to robots by 2030. Its research report, Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained, models wide-ranging scenarios that suggest between 75 million and 375 million workers (3%—14% of the global workforce) may need to change their job title by 2030.
The growing number of humanoid robots — from social care to the board — is demanding a rethinking of lines of responsibility and reporting. It has also given rise to a raft of interesting ideas: Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates suggested taxing robots that replace human workers, and CEOs Elon Musk (Tesla) and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) have put forward the idea of a universal basic income as a solution to the unemployment that automation could bring.
However, as very few occupations — perhaps less than 5% according to McKinsey — can be automated in their entirety, it is recognised that AI will continue to play a complementary role, sometimes described as augmented intelligence, in enhancing rather than replacing human thinking.
To succeed in this environment, Paul Roehrig, chief strategy officer for Cognizant Digital Business, a business and technology services provider, said: "It sounds counterintuitive, but to beat the bot, you need to be more human."
There is a long list of skills we need to accomplish this — they include creativity, emotional intelligence, and the ability to negotiate. As a part of the Association, CIMA members can benefit from a human intelligence video series available at aicpa-cima.com/human-intelligence. There is also a range of courses on the CGMA Store, including "AI and the Impact It Will Have on FP&A."
Throughout my career, even from early on, when using manual records as a cost clerk in the transport and motor trade department of the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society in Edinburgh, I have recognised the need to continue to learn and keep skills up to date.
Staying ahead of the tech curve is important, including for the mid-career management accountant with perhaps 20 or 25 years of career in front of them. Change will not slow down.
For all members — and future members — making sure your valuable qualification remains relevant ensures you are well placed to take advantage of individual opportunities — and are also equipped to encourage agile innovation in the businesses where you work.
Keep in touch
Follow me on Twitter: @CIMA_President