Interview

14 December 2018

Digitalisation – Caretaker & developer: the new accountant

Software is taking over the accountancy world, and eventually, systems will do book-keeping and other manual operations, says Benjamin Alarie, Osler Chair in Business Law at the University of Toronto.

Benjamin believes that software will progressively do the main part of book-keeping and the less exciting, manual aspects of accounting. “The same way that there was a lot of hand-wringing about what to do with spreadsheet technologies, today – it’s the same. Just like then, technology presents opportunities. It unlocks a lot of potential in terms of offering new services to clients.”

He is certain that the role of the accountant is evolving and they will continue to be essential to businesses, but in different ways. His advice is to “know yourself” and your strengths to determine which way suits you. These different directions are based on the service needs of future clients. He outlines three service possibilities where accountants can optimise working with technology.

Become more managerial

In this role, accountants can provide ever-more value to companies by taking a managerial role as ‘caretakers of finances’ or CFOs.

For accountants that want to perform this, more strategic, role, he suggests “learning all you can about your industry and business: you’ll be the person inside an organisation managing the change and harnessing technology for them.”

Shape the software

Accountants can also find new roles interacting with the software, “we’ll actually see accountants contributing to help build the software from a technical perspective. Accountants can offer a whole new range of services to improve the software.”

If you’re interested in shaping how the technology works, he advocates “find out everything about software developments: the inside out of AI, blockchain and more.”

Bridge the gap

Accountants can continue to provide professional services that connect the software developers and managerial functions in companies, whether in large firms or SMES.

Where the accountant’s preferred focus is on these types of bridging professional services, Benjamin underlines that “you’ll need to develop a good mix of the two areas above, as well as strong communication skills to be an effective interface between software developers and managers within companies.”

Bringing additional value

Accountants can begin today to test software and get a better idea of what the technology is capable of. According to Benjamin, today’s digital technology unlocks an enormous potential in terms of learning and modelling, with the output evolving over time to improve accuracy and insight.

Benjamin has a clear message for the accountancy profession: “These evolved technologies will allow you to offer added value by offering clients richer, more refined advisory services.”

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