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How will the rise of digital technology reshape accounting?

Posted by Tasnim Ahmed

September 9, 2022

Many professions have undergone an upheaval owing to the pandemic, including accounting. However, the field of accounting has continually pivoted to become more strategic in how it serves both businesses and individuals. While observers once opined that accounting would slowly be relegated to the background given the advent of cloud computing and data automation, the reverse has proven true — accounting is set to thrive due to these new technologies. 


In fact, naysayers have long sounded doomsday warnings for accounting, but with every advance in technology, the field has adapted and improved. For example, data mining has evolved into a resource that stands to immensely benefit businesses, and in turn it has been incorporated into accounting and finance as a strategic tool rather than rendering it obsolete.


Meanwhile, audits, tax preparation, banking and payroll are among the labor- and time-intensive aspects of accounting that are rapidly being automated. Automation allows many manual tasks to be completed immediately and accurately, leaving accountants to handle higher-level management and analytical work. Sage, OneUp, Intuit and Xero, for instance, are among software providers offering automated data entry for bookkeeping using artificial intelligence and machine learning.


Riding on this wave, accountants are expected to delve further into these technologies and others, such as cloud computing and management, augmented reality and blockchain. Below we’ll explore how this is playing out.


Cloud computing




Accounting and financial services delivered via the cloud have surged in popularity, with the increasing acceptance of remote work cementing the demand for cloud-based solutions that enable enterprises to function more effectively across the globe. 



Let’s say, for example, professionals at an accounting firm need to access a trove of data from multiple locations. The cloud makes it possible for them to simultaneously access the data regardless of their location, which is conducive to collaboration without downtime as opposed to individuals working in separate silos. Work becomes more transparent, and quality is maintained.


Automation



Automation entails the process of automating tasks that are repetitive in nature. It eliminates tedium for employees and frees their time for other important work. By eliminating manual labor through automation, accounting jobs become more efficient, streamlined and cost-effective. 


Armed with accurate, up-to-date data and the ability to move beyond the more tiresome aspects of their job, accountants can be the trusted business partner that their clients require.


AI



AI is not meant to replace the “human” touch in accounting, but rather to augment it by providing technical support. Accountants must gather and analyze reams of data to extract key information about a business’s financial health, and they have long done this on their own. However, AI tools today are available to assist in these financial analysis tasks, helping to make sense of data from which humans can make inferences and find insights. 


By enhancing the accountant’s ability to quickly provide the most accurate financial information possible, AI boosts productivity and cost efficiency. But it is still no replacement for the human element when it comes to applying information derived from data into a real-world financial strategy. 


Because AI provides accountants with insights they can apply to develop more targeted and sophisticated plans, their role has only become more invaluable to clients.


Augmented reality



Many industries are now adopting augmented reality for certain projects and accounting need not be any different. Applications might include an accounts receivable dashboard offering a 360-degree view that lets users drill down to see any level of detail they need, or AR presentations that allow accountants to interact with accounting figures and their audience.


Blockchain



Blockchain is essentially an accounting technology that has proven its efficacy at authenticating transactions and transferring ownership of assets. Blockchain offers a tremendous opportunity to the accounting industry to improve transaction security, reduce fraud and increase trust.


For example, blockchain technology could affect how transactions are processed, authorized and reported. It could also affect routine operations such as financial reporting and tax preparation. 


The role of the CFO amid accounting’s digital transformation



Many CFOs are driving change as torchbearers of automated technology and data analytics in their organizations. This has given rise to an increased demand for accounting managers who are able to handle massive data sets, parse that information and deliver output that helps the business make better decisions. 


The most efficient accounting managers will concentrate on spotting prospective areas for introducing automation, recognizing necessary changes given industry trends in digital technology and leveraging analytics. Additionally, FP&A experts will be more focused on advisory services rather than making bulky reports.


Takeaways



Digital transformation does not change the requirement for an accountant’s core competencies. However, the role will likely become more advisory in nature as accountants gain more strategic knowledge through digital technology. Superior insights gleaned from these tools will translate to better insights and recommendations. 


In other words, the CPA credential will continue to confirm an individual’s high-level accounting skills, while digital technology will improve the outcomes they achieve with their expertise. Accounting professionals that are ahead of the curve will be those investing in digital tools and training staff on how to leverage them for the benefit of businesses. 

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