Future of Work: Death of the Accountant and Auditor

Let’s cut to the chase. Of the 702 occupations that University of Oxford academics Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne recently examined for susceptibility to computerisation, accountants and auditors are judged to have a 0.94 probability of being at risk.
This puts CAs and CPAs on par with tax preparers, data entry keyers, loan officers, bookkeepers, accounting and auditing clerks, cashiers and budget analysts as the most endangered occupations in the near future.
In contrast, the jobs that are at low risk of being replaced by automation include management analysts, compliance officers, marketing managers, sales managers and CEOs (see table below).
Good-bye, Real-Life Accountant?
Sources: The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation? and CFO Innovation
Damned Algorithms
No one can say they didn’t see this coming. In a world where driverless cars are coming on the road, the tasks of posting, reconciling and reporting financial results would seem to be particularly susceptible to automation. Come to think of it, when was the last time you met a bookkeeper in your organization?
The job of the accountant and auditor is more complex, of course. Some cognitive skills, not just routine processing and manual dexterity, are needed to examine, analyze, and interpret accounting records to prepare financial statements, to audit and evaluate statements prepared by others, and to install or advise on systems of recording costs or other financial and budgetary data.
But even such skills, reckon Frey and Osborne, are becoming susceptible to computerisation. In "The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?", they argue that advances over the next decades in mobile robotics and machine learning technologies such as data mining, computational statistics and other sub-fields of artificial intelligence will produce algorithms that allow cognitive tasks to be automated.
Already, sophisticated algorithms are taking over a number of tasks performed by paralegals and contract and patent lawyers, they point out. For example, law firms now utilize computers to scan huge volumes of legal briefs and precedents to assist in pre-trial research.
Artificial intelligence algorithms, the academics add, are now “able to process a greater number of financial announcements, press releases, and other information than any human trader, and then act faster upon them.”
“Although the extent of these developments remains to be seen,” concede Frey and Osborne, “estimates by [the McKinsey Global Institute in 2013] suggest that sophisticated algorithms could substitute for approximately 140 million full-time knowledge workers worldwide.”
Label Assignments
How did the academics come to assign such a precise probability – 0.94 (1 = computerisable; 0 = not computerisable) – to the job of accountant and auditor? The susceptibility of these posts to computerisation was subjectively estimated at “1” by Frey, Osborne and a group of machine learning researchers.
Seventy of the 702 occupations, including accountant and auditor, were actually subjectively hand-labelled, based on open-ended descriptions of tasks specific to each job, as provided (and regularly updated) by the US Department of Labor through its O*NET online service.
The hand-labelling was made by answering the question: Can the tasks of this job be sufficiently specified, conditional of the ability of big data, to be performed by state of the art computer-controlled equipment?
“We drew upon a workshop held at the Oxford University Engineering Sciences Department, examining the automatability of a wide range of tasks,” the academics explain. “Our label assignments were based on eyeballing the O∗NET tasks and job description of each occupation.”
The susceptibility to computerisation of all 702 jobs, including accountant and auditor, were then measured using an algorithm developed to assess probability based on nine variables: persuasion, negotiation, social perceptiveness, originality, assisting and caring for others, fine arts, manual dexterity, finger dexterity, and cramped workspace.
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