Technology will radically change accountancy, CIPFA conference told

15 Jul 16

Accountants must be ready to adapt to the impact of technology on the profession in the years ahead, delegates at CIPFA conference were told yesterday.

In the final session of the conference, Daniel Susskind, an economics lecturer at Balliol College, Oxford and co-author of The Future of the Professions, said that technological change would lead to “very different roles” to new roles across many professional disciplines.

Roles like data scientist and process analyst were likely to become vital, he indicated to delegates as the “antiquated” professions are transformed by greater use of technology.

For example, he highlighted that whole sample audit was now increasingly possible through increasing use of technology.

“Traditionally, the way in which we do audits is – there are too many transactions to review them all, so we take a small sample, we hope it is representative and we extrapolate. That is not the ambition of Halo [a PwC system] – Halo is trying to do 100% testing, running algorithms through the entire population of financial transactions in order to make a judgement about whether the accounts are an accurate representation or not,” he told delegates.

“In a similar spirit, the idea of continuous auditing – rather than have audits at discrete intervals, this is a real-time insight into financial health of different companies, again using big data techniques.”

Technology was also leading to more competition for professional firms and a move away from bespoke services towards different ways of organising professional work.

Accountants could not pretend that these changes were not happening, he said. “It is happening, and don’t build barriers to protect traditional ways of working. Those are bad ideas.

“The tasks for you are to start with a blank sheet of paper when you think about the job that you do. The temptation is always to be of the mindset of how we can use technology to do what we currently do more efficiently and more effectively. But you should be asking might there be an entirely different way to organise professional work that don’t resemble the ways that people have done in the 20th century.

“I think you should explore the new roles and the skills and capabilities that are required, and changing your mindset about how you think about the future. If you are open minded about the way in which you solve these problems, and you’re open minded to using technology to do it perhaps very differently, then I think the future is a very exciting one.”

Speaking to Public Finance after the session, Alan Edwards, chair of CIPFA Development, highlighted the growing use of technology in the sector, including the new accounts closedown service the institute has launched.

"The CIPFA closedown service, which automates much of the labour intensive annual report and accounts process is in part a response to the issues raised about the impact of technology on the work of professionals,” he stated.

“It is designed to ensure accountants in public finance have access to the very latest technology and can focus on where they can add the most value.”

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