[FORBES ARTICLE] Becoming Iron Man: How Accounting Professionals Can Power Up With Automation
Updated: Apr 22, 2020
If you read almost any article about the future of the accounting industry, you might be inclined to make a dramatic career shift. The statistics point to massive technological change. According to findings from a 2017 PwC study, 40% of the accounts payable process can be automated; other findings show that accounting and bookkeeping jobs are at the highest risk from digital disruption in the next 20 years. On its surface, this data might lead you to assume that AI and automation are like ruthless villains coming for our jobs.
But the outlook doesn’t have to be bleak. No matter how powerful automation technology becomes, our industry will always need people. This is why, despite the ominous predictions, accounting professionals of the future won’t be robots; they’ll be talented people who use this technology to their advantage.
Don’t believe me? Consider Tony Stark and his Iron Man suit. In a podcast interview with Christopher Lochhead last year, legendary investor Mike Maples drew some parallels to the Iron Man suit and automation. As a dad and fintech entrepreneur, I loved Mike's superhero metaphor and immediately connected it to the accounting industry. As Fandom describes it, “The suit is a powered exoskeleton with armored plating, capable of enhancing the wearer's strength, speed, agility, and endurance.”
The keyword there is “enhancing.” Tony Stark leverages the Iron Man suit to give him enhanced powers and protection. The suit is simply a tool — one that wouldn’t work without a smart, inventive person at the helm.
Just like Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit, think of AI and automation as the accountant’s powerful exoskeleton. When we leverage this technology, we can do our jobs with greater strength, speed, agility and endurance. Here’s how. Automation unleashes your strength.
As an accounting professional, your biggest strength is not doing data entry; it’s providing solutions to your clients. Consider leveraging automation and AI — your Iron Man suit — to put this strength to work. When you harness AI to complete repetitive tasks, you free up time to focus on high-value work, whether that’s analyzing operational inefficiencies, offering strategic advice or developing personal relationships with your clients. In fact, research shows that automation enables over 40% of finance efforts to align with more value-driven activities. And these are precisely the activities that bring strength (and job security) to your business.
Automation gives you speed.
According to findings from Accenture, automation can reduce the time it takes to perform tasks by up to 90%. A large portion of bookkeeping and accounting work involves time-consuming, repeatable tasks, all of which can be automated. With the enhanced level of speed and precision offered via AI, accounting professionals have the ability to respond to clients faster, deliver reports with efficiency and ease, and free up time to take on new clients. With AI-enhanced operations, you can truly power up and scale your business.
Automation enables agility.
Automation technology gives accounting professionals and their clients the ability to make decisions rapidly and with greater accuracy. Rather than sifting through endless spreadsheets, AI processes data and analyzes trends quickly, enabling you and your clients to make smarter decisions in less time. Not to mention, cloud-based automation technology empowers you to collaborate with your team and clients from anywhere, keeping you sharp and prepared at any moment.
Automation offers longevity and endurance.
When used properly, AI is an accounting professional’s protection from “enemies” — the generic automated competition on the market. By combining your human expertise with automation, you’ll achieve greater industry specialization and, therefore, increased defensibility against competitors and outside forces. AI enables your business to become more innovative and customer-centric, two qualities that are essential to last the test of time.
Follow best practices when implementing AI.
Tony Stark’s armor has evolved throughout the years; in fact, the most recent “Mark L” iteration is his fiftieth Iron Man suit to date. The genius inventor is constantly evaluating what works, testing new tools and learning how to best apply the latest technology to make his armor more powerful.
Similarly, accounting firms ready to leverage AI and automation should first define what success means in their business (e.g., is success growing your client base? Acquiring smaller firms in your region?) and determine if automation technology will put you closer to those goals.
Next, work toward putting all the correct parts of your “suit” in place. If you haven’t already, consider moving your business to the cloud — this is critical in order to integrate with third-party automation, AI and machine learning. Just like Stark, you’ll also need streamlined operations in order to continue innovating. If you want to effectively leverage automation technology, you’ll need to start by standardizing your workflows. It will make the transition more efficient and give you benchmarks for future change.
Lastly, make sure your whole team is prepared for what’s ahead. Before you hand over their new Iron Man suits, ensure they are ready to adopt new processes and acquire new skills. As automation replaces more mundane accounting functions, they’ll be tasked with interpreting data and communicating it to clients. Start training your team to provide this high-value service as soon as possible.
Technological change is inevitable, both in superhero movies and in the business world. Right now, the accounting industry might be concerned about robots; in 15 years, it will be something else. No matter what the technology is, we will always need people to put it to its best use. Accountants who use automation as a powerful Iron Man suit will not only do their jobs better and faster; they’ll be prepared for heroic long-term success. Read Article on Forbes