Believe it. Robots are here. No need for concern, though… unless you happen to catch a glint of steel under your neighbour’s skin. In that case, you should probably move. Of course, we’re not talking about the Terminator here; the robots we’re talking about are already among us, and they’re here to help. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a form of automation technology that, through a graphical user interface (GUI), performs automation by repeating tasks. The technology is already in use today, performing tasks such as website scraping and payroll processing, transferring data from one system to another, and much more.
A common misconception is that robots are going to replace accounting jobs. While it’s correct to say specific tasks may get replaced by automation, the consensus is that robots won’t replace humans entirely, but rather, they will free up time for humans to work on other responsibilities. According to Snober Bains CPA, CA, Recruitment Consultant with Recruitment Partners, the highest level of job risk when it comes to automation is transactional work such as data entry—an area that may have been the building blocks for an early-career accountant or post-secondary student entering the profession.
While transactional work may go the way of the robot, Snober hints that junior accountants will need strong acumen. Instead of working in Excel and manually reviewing financial information, an early-career accountant might focus on problem-solving and understanding why specific errors or anomalies have occurred within the automation. One way to gain an edge on the competition, if you have an extra hour or so a day, is to enroll in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). MOOCs are online courses with unlimited participation and can be accessed via the web.
“Students that are serious and want successful careers should consider a MOOC course,” suggests Snober. “Many universities in Canada and the U.S. offer 12-week courses in Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, RPA, and many other topics. Many are not accredited programs, but it is more about building acumen and using these tools to solve problems rather than adding credit to your resume.”
Even though RPA and other promising technologies are changing the face of accounting, Snober says there will always be a place for the stereotypical “bean counter.” Mid-market companies and owner-managed businesses may not be able to afford sophisticated technologies such as RPA and Enterprise Resource Planning systems, and may continue to rely on general accountants and doing things the good, old-fashioned way.
So, if spreadsheets happen to be your thing, everything is going to be alright. That is, until robots believe you’re the one taking their job… but that might be something closer to science fiction at this point.