Most CPAs not worried about being replaced by AI
At a recent convention, attendees answered a straw poll revealing excitement for AI innovation and confidence in the future of the accounting profession’s use of technology.
“The only thing constant is change,” said Donny Shimamoto, CPA, CITP, CGMA, the founder and managing director of IntrapriseTechKnowlogies LLC. “For our profession to really move forward, we need to continue to innovate. We need to continue to transform what we’re doing, how we’re doing that, and all that is really driving growth in the profession itself,” he told Don Meyer, CAE, chief marketing officer with the New Jersey Society of CPAs and the host of its Issues Watch podcast.
Shimamoto was joined by four other thought leaders who were also keynote speakers at the NJCPA Convention & Expo. The podcast also included Gene Marks, CPA, an author, columnist, and owner of the Marks Group; Jim Bourke, CPA, CITP, CFF, CGMA, a partner with and managing director of advisory services at Withum; Scott Clemons, CFA, a partner and chief investment strategist with Brown Brothers Harriman; and Kecia Williams Smith, CPA, assistant professor and director of the Master of Accountancy program at North Carolina A&T State University.
Accountants not worried about being automated out of a job
Shimamoto said, “I think it’s a misnomer that we are not adopters of the new. When you look at our profession compared to law, compared to medicine, from a technology adoption standpoint, we are way ahead.”
“When you look now at the use of artificial intelligence and the use of automation, we’ve got it embedded in all of our organizations, throughout our firms,” he added. “We’re there. We think a lot of people think of us as ‘bean counters,’ but that is not our profession. Our profession really helps people be more successful, whether that’s in business, whether that’s an individual. So, really, it’s driving all of this forward and adopting those.”
To prove his point, Shimamoto shared the results of an informal poll. During one of his conference break-out sessions, he asked the audience, “How worried are you about being replaced by artificial intelligence?” Almost half—43%— said ‘Not worried at all’ and another 47% indicated they were only mildly worried.
“That’s because they’re operating in that CPA space, that higher professional level, compared to just the bookkeeping,” Shimamoto offered. “If it’s bookkeeping, auditing clerks, those are going to get automated out. If you’re working at a professional level, applying judgement, using objectivity and independence to help clients make better decisions, you’re not going to get automated out.”
Accountants excited about artificial intelligence & automation
Shimamoto also asked the audience, “How do you feel about the impact of artificial intelligence on accountants and auditors?” A whopping 74% said they were excited about the impact and the changes it will bring and 9% believe it will be a significant boon to the accounting profession.
Bourke added, “We’re going to automate all of those tasks; the tasks that were really a huge burden on our entire profession for the longest time. And now we’re going to put the professionals in a much better position to better advise their clients…take things to the next level.”
“Let’s better advise our clients, use what we went to school to learn how to do,” he said. “No CPA, no accountant went to school to learn how to take a number off of Box 1 on a W-2 and input that same number into tax software to be gross wages.” Bourke, continued explaining how accountants learned the manual tasks once they entered the profession, getting away from the principles learned in college. “Quite frankly, a lot of people forgot about all the other things, about that foundation,” he said. “They knew it when they took the CPA exam, but then there was no application for it. We’re going back to that, hence the changes to the CPA exam, to be more relevant as to what we do in our profession today.”
Nontechnical skills key to future success
To Williams Smith, another way CPAs can make sure they stay on top of their game is continuously upskill, including nontechnical skills, like communications and emotional intelligence.
“For individuals, do your own self-assessment. And sometimes looking in the mirror can be a little hard, but you know better than anybody else where you need some enhancement,” she said. “So, if you do shy away from conflict and you need to learn how to have a crucial conversation, figure out are there ways, are there books, are there training sessions, are there partners or peers or mentors that you can talk to and say, ‘This is an area that I’m not as comfortable in.’”
Williams Smith continued, “The longer you stay in a profession, the more those types of skills are going to help you maintain in the profession. The technical skills will get you in the door…That’s what people expect you to do. But to deliver high quality client service, you need to know how to interact with people. You need to know how to be empathetic. You need to know how to communicate well. That’s what keeps people in the profession. That’s what keeps the longevity with your clients.