By Christopher Argent, Founder, Generation CFO
Last year, we debunked the marketing hype that was driven by the highly cited University of Oxford research paper “The future of employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation?” by Carl Frey and Michael Osbourne.
Part one, explained we are very much in control of our future, but we have some action to take to mitigate any future risks.
So what about the probability that accountants are 94% at risk of automation?
No problem! We are good at the numbers, right? So let’s use them in our favour. The thing is about probabilities is if you multiply them with another possibility, they get smaller still.
I have looked down the list of “at risk” occupations and I don’t believe anyone in our profession is strictly locked in a risky role (ie: “bookkeeping” is at 98% risk but could a bookkeeper do more than keep books?) and as smart analytical thinkers I am sure we are all able to adapt to new skills and roles, if needed.
Enter hybrid, sociable, tech savvy accountants
So let’s assume that the paper is right, and in 10-20 years we are all doomed. It may be a good idea to combine less risky roles to your role to create a hybrid that not only reduces your susceptibility to automation, but helps us understand what we should be doing to stay relevant.
The accountants example
Let’s say we are a “normal” accountant or auditor, we are at 94% risk of automation…
If we add some finance management or analysis work, an easy move, we are doing work that is only 13% at risk of automation,
If we now add some business operations specialist work, say, championing process improvement and digital finance operations, are doing work that is 23% at risk of automation…
Let’s multiple these out 94% x 13% x 23%, assuming we are doing all three, we are now down to 3% risk of automation!
If we do more and more of the less risky work, we are clearly at very low risk.
The tax accountants example
Preparers = 99% risk (after all tax has already gone “digital” in the UK eg: MTD)
Add personal tax advice = 58% risk
Add financial planning analysis = 23% (many accountants become IFAs as a second career in later life!)
Add some business management advice = 7%
Thats 99% x 58% x 23% x 7% and da dah!
We have gone from imminent doom to less than 1% risk…
And on a hugely positive note, moving to the above mix of work, you are going to be an integral part of your clients personal/business life. Hip Hip!
D’oh! We were wrong…
It is also worth noting that the research authors themselves have had to retract their original risk statement about accountants, “Our study wasn’t even a prediction… It said nothing about pace (of change)… the more an accountant earns, the less automatable his/her job is…” read this as, the more accountants mix skills that business need, they are not at automation risk.
Whilst the message about our profession can be generally negative, “change now or die”, “buy this app or become irrelevant”, there is clearly a future for accountants if we can open our minds to new skills, which is something we have always managed (ask anyone dealing with IFRS 16, or MTD).
And that doesn’t mean learning code or becoming a data scientist, it means learning the art of the digital possible, have a strategy to de-risk your career, learning how to make sustainable change and work on that plan over multiple years…
Don’t believe the hype!