When the Centre for the Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) wrote a report titled Australia’s Future Workforce?, it was pointing that chilling question mark at you.
IBM has a computer, Watson, that can diagnose your medical condition. It’s already read two million pages of medical textbooks and 25,000 training cases. Associated Press has robots writing sports reports and finance updates. You might have read one in your newspaper without knowing. It’s not just guys on the production line who are losing their jobs to robots and algorithms.
“By the 2030s there is a high probability that occupations such as accountants, estate agents and even economists will not exist or will be significantly depleted,” says CEDA’s report.
How high? When it comes to accountants, 94 per cent, according to Australia’s Future Workforce?. Distance to 2030? 13 years. How old are your children?
A couple of dozen lines of computer code couldn’t do my job, you want to think. But how many clients you would have if the ATO weren’t doing your marketing for you? Today, businesses need accountants because tax is complicated and, let’s be honest, a little frightening. We’ve liked it that way. But as the ATO gets better at milking raw data from employers, banks and government agencies and churning it into tax data, the need for small businesses to lodge BAS or a tax return is vaporising. When your compliance work goes, what will be left?
Compliance will lose all its value, but accountants can still sell considerable value. They can help their clients run their businesses, especially startups—newborn businesses that need wise hands to guide them as they take their first breaths. But there’s a catch.
The business advice needs to come from people who know how to run a business, not just count its profits and losses.
It’s not going to be easy money. And it’s going to require some recalibration of the accountant mindset. It’s beyond putting numbers in boxes, and it’s about counselling educated risk (you provide the educated part). The conservative accountant is a generalisation, but there’s a reason accountancy practices haven’t set the BRW Fast 100 on fire.
To take your place as trusted advisor to tomorrow’s businesses, there are three things every accountant needs to do this year:
Accept that change is needed. If you’ve snorted at the suggestion that the computers are coming for your job, you need to think deeper than the fear. Even if you don’t think a computer could ever do your job, it couldn’t hurt to get better at adding value as well as guiding compliance, could it? One suggestion might be to stop emailing your clients to alert them to every change in the law. They want context and advice, not a legal education. Don’t show them the law, show them the money.
Upskill. A horrible word, but call it what you want. You need to be equipped to give business advice, which means eating your own dog food. Take the IPA’s excellent business courses. Apply the lessons to your own business. Look at what you need to change, change it and show others how to do the same.
Look for 2017 on the label. It’s laughable to think that it’s okay in 2017 to be managing clients with the same tools you were using 10 years ago. If you’re still doing something in 2017 that you were doing in 2000, you need to have a hard look at it. Is that a Nokia in your pocket? No, so why are you still managing your clients with Outlook? In just the last couple of months of 2016, we picked up $200,000 in work from clients who came to use because their accountants weren’t replying to emails. That’s why my team responds quickly. And I know they do because we have software that measures response times. You can use technology to help you run a better business, or you can wait till technology replaces your business.
Your new clients are out there waiting for you. They’re waiting for a business advisor who can talk to them in plain, simple English. They’re not looking for someone to talk to them in the language of balance sheets. They’ve had that, and now they can have it in the cloud. They’re looking for someone who can say, “Hey, if you cut down the time your customers take to pay by just five days, you’d put another $20,000 a month in your bank account.”
The practices that thrive in the next five years will be the ones who can give context and advice that clients see moving the bottom line. Let the computers put the numbers in the boxes. Your job is much more exciting.