The threat of AI and chatbots taking over many white-collar jobs. And yes, that includes the accounting and finance profession!
No, this is not hype, it is time to face the fact that our jobs are at risk.
But let's not panic just yet, we are not talking about Terminator-esque obliteration. Instead, let's take a step back and look at the evidence, some of which I have documented for finance leaders over the past decade, to try and make sense of it all.
Back in 2013, a group of researchers at Oxford University conducted a study to estimate the probability of computerisation of 702 occupations. They found that job groups like accounting and finance had a large degree of routine tasks, such as data entry and analysis, so are at high risk of being automated. But did it lead to Robo-accountant?
Let's be real.
This analysis was not a prediction, it was a view of “susceptibility” to automation. There was no clear timeline, there was no consideration of our own skills mix and adaptability, no factoring in of customer experience and relationships, and there was no cost/benefit analysis, after all not every change is value for money!
This is why Terminator is still very much in his box, somewhere in the distant future.
That said, narrow AI tools and solutions are flooding the market and things are changing in the CFO Tech space. These narrow AI tools are creating wholesale change, but it is time to get much closer to the change.
And whether you see this change as now or later, you need to be informed enough to decide if you are in or out of the change.
I find thinking of AI as a copilot, an assistant, a geeky friend, is a nice way to engage with this subject. And its difficult to ignore the message, it's not just data entry and analysis that are vulnerable to automation.
Think about all the repetitive tasks you do on a daily basis. Responding to emails, scheduling meetings, answering accounting policy enquiries, and writing a standard commentary on your standard business partner reports can all be handled by AI and chatbots. And while these technologies are becoming increasingly sophisticated, they still have a long way to go before they can fully replicate the human touch.
So what does this mean for us?
Are we destined to be replaced by robots? Absolutely not.
The key is to adapt and evolve, and we are generally very good at that in accounting and finance. Every year we have a new business plan, new chart of accounts, cost centre, business untis, new regulation, new tools, new tax rates, new IFRS… we are pretty amazing at adapting!
So is embracing change in our workplaces and finding ways to add value beyond what a machine can do, really that hard?
Narrow AI is amazing, but it is just that, narrow! It fixes one problem, it responds to one request, so in human terms it is pretty dumb. Human can be both narrow and wide, open and closed, we rock!
For starters, we can focus on developing skills that are less likely to be automated. Jobs that require creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving are less vulnerable to AI and chatbots. Good news! Most accounting and finance jobs require these skills and most people would love to major on them rather than a dull processing role!
So if you're in an admin job that is at high risk of automation, start exploring ways to develop these skills, and go and talk to your boss about developing away from AI susceptible tasks.
If that conversation is met with blank faces and confusion, explain to your boss the risk is real and we should be looking for ways to collaborate with AI and chatbots, rather than competing with them.
For example, imagine a payroll or AP team that uses chatbots to handle the more straightforward enquiries, allowing the human team members to focus on more complex issues that require empathy and intuition. “Sorry we forgot to pay you, we were inputting your boss's pay rise!”, need not be a line you will ever hear again!
And let's not forget about the importance of emotional intelligence. OK, ok, accountants and engineers can be low EQ, but we are most certainly more advanced than a chatbot!
The ability to connect with people on an emotional level will become increasingly valuable. So if you're in a people-oriented role, a finance manager or a finance leader, focus on developing your emotional intelligence skills. You could even try a GENCFO event!
This will give you a leg up in the workplace, build your leadership skills and make you much more attractive than your low EQ peers.
But while I am full of hope and optimism for the profession, this does not mean sit tight and do nothing! Some jobs are simply not meant to last forever, and that's okay.
So as leaders, we need to be open to the idea of retraining and reskilling for new roles as they emerge. Analytics, automation, agility (GENCFO triple A’s) offer a ton of potential, and yes, this may require us to step out of our comfort zones and try something new, but it's a small price to pay to stay relevant in an ever-changing job market.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking, "I am qualified! I've invested years of my life into this career. I must be employable! I can't just throw it all away." And I hear you. But here's the thing: no job is truly safe from automation. Even jobs that require a high degree of skill and education are at risk. So the question is not whether your job is safe, but how you can adapt and evolve to stay ahead of the curve. This is why GENCFO is here, to support, to guide, to untie leaders to make change!
In conclusion, the threat of AI and chatbots taking over our white-collar jobs is real. But it's not a death sentence for our careers. We have the power to adapt and evolve, to develop skills that are less vulnerable to automation, and to collaborate with these technologies to add value beyond what a machine can do. So let's not be complacent, let’s lean in to the change, the tech, the business demand. Let's be proactive and take charge of our own futures because when it comes down to it, the only person responsible for your career is you.
Chris is the founder and MD of GenerationCFO.com and creator of the Digital Finance Function Model and a contributor to many articles on our platform. Chris focuses on the shift toward digital transformation in accounting and finance, shows you what good looks like, then helps to get you there!