The world of accounting has changed radically since I qualified in 1986. In many ways, the things I learned that have best stood the test of time have been the people, management, and leadership skills. However, "T" accounts — the informal term for financial records that use double-entry bookkeeping — have been relevant since their use by the Franciscan monk Luca Pacioli in 15th century Italy. Today, they form a fundamental basis of the automation we increasingly see in accounting.
Our profession has always been at the forefront of change — and it has seen waves of automation. We saw these in the 1920s to the early 1930s when office machinery and tabulating machines were introduced, and this journal was questioning the profession's future.
Further waves of new technology came in the mid-1950s with electronic data processing and in the 1980s with the advent of desktop computing, spreadsheets, and accounting software. Most recently, big data and artificial intelligence (AI) are impacting our profession.
The early interview stage of our yearlong Future of Finance research showed that today the adoption of new technology is not evenly distributed across all organisations, sectors, and industries. Of the three core technologies that Deloitte identifies as impacting the finance function — cloud, process robotics, and visualisation — only the cloud has become mainstream. Over half (54%) of finance professionals we surveyed said cloud technology had been adopted by their teams. However, only 17% said their teams planned to invest in process robotics during the next three to five years, and only 13% identified visualisation as an investment over the same period.
Blockchain is the technology everyone is talking about, but paradoxically its widespread adoption will likely come even later than that of those other technologies. According to our research, 2% of those surveyed said their teams were currently using it, and only 9% were investing in it in the medium term.
Blockchain's impact is likely to be massive across many sectors including finance, legal, and supply chains. PwC says that 10% to 20% of global economic infrastructure could be running on blockchain-based systems by 2030. For finance professionals, mastering blockchain before then is an imperative.
Given that you, our members, drive innovation in your organisations, it is no surprise that our research shows that you view automation, data analytics, and AI as an opportunity rather than a threat. Change is coming at us faster than ever, and accountants in business need the skills and understanding to embrace that opportunity. The Association will continue to develop the resources to ensure you have the skills and mindset to succeed.
We need to be continually learning — to exploit new tools, techniques, and ways of thinking in order to add value to our businesses and our own careers.
We are now seeing new waves of change in business. They have come before. The profession can own that change, and we — and our organisations — can benefit from it.