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By 2020, more than a third of most occupations' desired skill sets will be comprised of different skills than needed today, according to the Chief Human Resources Officers surveyed by the World Economic Forum in its January 2016 publication "The Future of Jobs: Employment, Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution"1.
Prepared to be an accountant in 2020? You'll need to stay on top of these - our list of what we consider to be the most important trends in accounting technology.
1. AI and accounting automation
Up to 37 per cent of Australians and New Zealanders are worried that automation puts their job at risk, according to our Future of Talent: Opportunities Unlimited paper - yet despite predictions that the financial sector will be among the worst hit by automation2, others are predicting the industry could weather the storm - "as some jobs are lost, others are created"3.
However it ultimately affects employment, A.I. driven automation will change your day-to-day life as an accountant. From the automation of repetitive administration tasks to the creation of fully integrated accounts received and payable systems, automation will have significant knock-on effects for regulatory trust, auditing and compliance.
This will lead to a shift away from transactional roles such as ledger, and towards more highly skilled roles such as financial planning, financial analysis and business analysis.
Writing for Forbes4, Entryless CEO Mike Galarza says that "better technology will create more opportunity" and that "human experience" will ensure people remain relevant.
"Accounting as a profession needs to change, providing consultation and guidance to help clients prepare for and meet the future."
2. "DIY" Cloud Accounting Software
The rise of accessible cloud accounting software which simplifies traditional accounting administration might not be as headline grabbing as our other two technologies, but it's having a real impact on the everyday market for accounting professionals.
While these inexpensive "DIY" solutions may lessen bookwork for small businesses5, these businesses will still require the financial advice and expertise only an accountant can provide.
This expertise will be both regulatory and technical, as it will be important for accountants to not only be fluent in the leading bookkeeping solutions your clients could have adopted, but also to be their go-to expert for these suites.
Thankfully, cloud software solutions and their online datasets make it easier than ever6 to expose important financial data to clients and empower management to engage with your expertise and advice.
3. Cryptocurrencies, Blockchain and Distributed Ledgers
Of course, no look at the future of financial technologies would be complete without 2017's rising stars7: cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and the technologies which underpin them, blockchain and distributed ledgers.
While cryptocurrencies pose their own challenges for accountants as outlined in our 2015 Digital Currencies: Where to from here? report (notably with regards to taxation, auditing, fraud detection and money-laundering), despite their meteoric rise in fiscal value8 and media attention, cryptocurrencies are unlikely to go mainstream in 20189, according to global financial firm UBS.
However, blockchain and distributed ledger technologies have much broader implications for the near-term future. As discussed in our 2017 report The Future of Blockchain, distributed ledgers (which function as "cooperative databases" in which data is held by multiple computers at once) promote sharing, verification and trust, because a majority of computers have to agree to each data edit, and all computers maintain a record of all changes. Together these attributes have led to some referring to blockchain as "Triple Entry Bookkeeping,"10 although the term's appropriateness has come under some debate11.
In Australia, major financial institutions are actively developing solutions based on these technologies - including the ASX, Commonwealth Bank, Westpac and ANZ - and an IBM survey of global banks referenced in The Future of Blockchain found that 51 per cent believe they'll deploy distributed ledgers in commercial products at scale between 2018 and 2020.
What does this mean for you?
It means you're going to graduate in a period undergoing significant technological and regulatory overhaul, as well as changing everyday priorities for accountants. Some lower-level activities might be overtaken by software automation, emphasising the accountant's role as an advisor, strategist and consultant in these transitionary years.
As established in our Future of Talent:Opportunities Unlimited report, adaptability will be one of the most important skills for employees over the coming years.
As a student, you have the unique opportunity to embrace the uncertainty of the next five years, and position yourself as an advocate for new technologies, practices and ways of doing business.