Bookkeeping into the future

We recently had the NZ Bookkeepers Association annual conference and the theme was the Future of Bookkeeping.  I found this to be very interesting; particularly given some recent reports in the media suggesting that NZ would only require 18 accountants by the year 2030!  There’s also been a recent article published suggesting that we should prepare for a less human future as business decisions will be more automated and more reliable due to artificial intelligence (AI).  The article went on to say large amounts of data will enable business leaders to be more effective in their decision making.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that this will not happen, but I do have a problem with the people who say we will not need bookkeepers and accountants in the future.  Here are two reasons why.

  1. Garbage in – garbage out.  Have you heard that one?  All the data in the world is useless unless it is correct.  Yes, AI and self-learning computers will have an impact here but a lot of the things we deal with in bookkeeping cover multiple interactions with different people and paperwork and it is our job to be able to collate that information and ensure it is correctly entered into an accounting system, and more often than not multiple systems.  This too throws up more challenges to ensure systems are working together correctly. Until they invent a computer that can read the mind of a business owner then I don’t think we have too much of a problem. 
  2. The spread sheet example.  When the electronic spread sheet was invented just over 30 years ago (yes they did use paper based spread sheets before the electronic version was invented in the mid 80’s) it reduced the time it took accountants to calculate things incredibly.  What might have taken days to work out was done in an instant.  Surely then this reduced the number of bookkeepers and accountants required and yes in the 1980’s in the US – 400,000 jobs were replaced by this technology; however 600,000 new accounting and bookkeeping jobs were created!  How does that work?  I won’t go into the detail here but basically it created more work than it automated.  Check out the podcast on Planet Money or see this article from Wired.com.  This is something that the futurists cannot often predict, how technology improvements in one sector can create even more opportunities in the same sector as things evolve.  Accounting is one such sector.

At The Back Office Company we are really embracing these changes; in fact we use a lot of AI products already with Xero and apps like Receipt Bank as two of the more common examples. We are just not convinced that AI will take over everything we do.  We understand that our role as bookkeepers will evolve over the next few years but we also believe that we are the key link in the process in that if the information going into any system is not accurate then the information coming out the other end is useless.  The way we enter that information has and will continue to change and it will become more automated but the big thing that has not changed is our need as bookkeepers, the people at the coalface entering the information, to communicate effectively with the business owners, their accountants and any other advisors to ensure the integrity of the financial information is correct.

I like to think of it as the trickle up effect.  As bookkeepers we don’t make the important decisions on how you run your business but the information we provide is essential for you to be able to make good decisions (or bad, that’s up to you) on running your business.

Arran Finlayson

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