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Small practitioners intimidated by the rapid growth of technology

Small practitioners are struggling to find their path due to the rapid growth of technology, which has birthed several new hurdles, said the CEO of the IFA.

Small practitioners intimidated by the rapid growth of technology
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Practitioners intimidated by technology

A large number of small practitioners are yet to head down the road of digitisation and as a result they are struggling to comprehend the latest trends, said John Edwards.

Things like HMRC’s push around the digitisation of tax aimed to make tax administration more effective and efficient for taxpayers – are proving a real struggle for some. In the accounting industry, artificial intelligence is being perceived as a real threat, with the power to eradicate the industry.

“Technology is moving at such a pace, and I think for the small practitioner it is the uncertainty of which way to go … We have got clients that are not tech savvy, and even some of our members. So, there is an education opportunity there of choosing the right technology and helping their clients, basically,” Mr Edwards explained.

Andrew Conway, the CEO of the IPA Group, agreed. He said that there are many similarities between the accounting profession in Australia and the UK.

He explained that there’s a degree of uncertainty for small businesses across the board, particularly in relation to the growing role of technology in accounting.

“There are a lot of doomsayers saying, AI is coming, it’s going to wipe out the profession. There were articles recently saying that in 20 years, accounting jobs as we know them won’t exist,” said Mr Conway.

“I’m a bit more glass full than that, in fact a lot more glass full, because the accounting profession has been around as we know for hundreds of years and we’ve evolved with different tools and resources and in my view the evolution of AI is just another tool.”

He explained that AI is yet another wave of evolution, like the many before it, and that accountants need to be part of the conversation.

“I found a quote from back in 1959 that said the automation and information technology changes will eradicate the accounting profession. That was in 1959. Now, that hasn’t happened. We’ve evolved, we’ve proven time after time that we can evolve and we will,” noted Mr Conway.

He judged that while AI may be good, EI is better. 

“I think it’s this connection between ‘Yes, AI is good, but emotional intelligence or EI is better’. And it comes back to the point of why does a person engage an accountant? Fundamentally they engage them because they are trusted and they engage them to see the whites of the eyes,” said Mr Conway.

“When you’re sitting opposite a client who says to you, as the accountant, ‘What should I do?’, they expect an honest response. Now, you have all the information at your fingertips in terms of the AI, computer dashboards and all that wonderful stuff, but when it comes back to it, it’s a human interaction that no algorithm can replace.”

Mr Conway encouraged accountants to be upfront and talk openly about the changing face of accounting.

He revealed that numerous IPA members have already made the change and have over a period of years become genuine business coaches.

“It’s about using all the accounting knowledge and the skills around the conceptional framework, all those skills about judgment and scepticism that we get trained in, from a technical point of view, and then applying that in a human context,” Mr Conway concluded. 

“That’s the capacity of us, being able to transition from the technician into the coach. We’ve proved we can do it and we will do it. We are already doing it. I think for us, it’s that sense of realising that the technology that’s being used now is enabling richer conversations.”

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