Accountants are dead. Long live accountants
Accountants and bookkeepers seem to be top of the list for replacement by robots according to most reports you read, says Paul Bulpitt, UK head of accounting at Xero and co-founder of The Wow Company.
Mark Carney, Bank of England governor was also quoted last week as forecasting that 15 million jobs will be lost to tech over the coming years.
In a similar vein, research conducted by Xero this year, revealed that 59% of small business owners think that they won’t need an accountant in 10 years’ time.
So are the days of accountants numbered?
No. The accountant isn’t dying. In fact, their role is actually diversifying. Here’s why:
Today’s accountant is learning new skills and picking up different attributes that keeps them relevant for their evolving responsibilities. Strong percentages of the survey sample believed that business management, risk analysis, and computer science are skills needed to succeed in 2026. This signals a new era of accountancy, led by the accountants themselves
As long as there is complexity involved with running a small business, there will be a place for accountants. Small businesses don’t have finance teams or even quite often the expertise to handle the latest regulations. You just have to look at auto enrolment, and the roll out of Making Tax Digital
While much of the traditional work performed by accountants, bookkeepers and payroll managers is being automated, there is an important human element to the relationship a business owner has with their accountant that can’t be replicated by a robot
How accountants communicate with clients needs to change
Increasingly, business owners are turning towards non-traditional forms of communication to interact with their customers and vendors. This trend is reflected in Xero’s survey results, which found that only 42% of small business owners thought they would interact with their accountant face-to-face in the future. With the ‘anytime, anywhere’ connectivity we have at our fingertips today, the need for companies to change traditional working models and end the one-size-fits-all approach is more important now than ever. This means making ourselves available to clients through mobile messaging apps and virtual hangouts, which will not only improve client satisfaction, but boost productivity.
The role of the accountant changes
With the processing work automated and availability of various data feeds, the quality of financial information on hand for small businesses has never been better. The opportunity for accountants is taking this financial information and delivering relevant, timely insights to business owners. Imagine being able to let a client know in advance that they are heading for a cash flow issue – then being able to help them by arranging short-term finance through a P2P lender. Services not currently offered, but possible already. As the client-accountant relationship evolves to an ‘on-demand’ model, we’ll see a move from lengthy, bulky engagements to more frequent, yet higher value work.
Accounting firms have significant role to play
So there isn’t, and will never be, any dispute around the value of an accountant for a business. However, every modern business, regardless of size or age, needs a modern accountant who knows how to future-proof a business. Ensure you understand your client’s needs, your own needs and the tools and technology at your disposal in order to continue to provide excellent accountancy services.
Paul Bulpitt – Co-founder of The Wow Company. Head of Accounting at Xero.