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Cornell Student Articles on Topical Affairs

How technology is changing accounting

No one can doubt that new technologies have had a great impact on accounting. You would be hard pressed to find anyone today doing manual accounting with pencils and ledgers but there was a time not long ago that this was the norm. From the advent of the adding machine to the computer main frame and later the desktop PC, technology has profoundly changed the way accounting is done. Todays Accountants, through the leveraging of technology to automate mundane tasks, now spend most of their time on things much more interesting and challenging than simply adding up columns of figures. Modern software and education provides them with tools that give much greater insights into the inner working of a business than their forefathers could have even dreamed. We are now on the edge of a new wave of change that looks like it will be greater than that ushered in by the widespread use of computers.

The first wave of technology was about the automating tasks like adding up columns of figures and doing financial calculations much faster than is possible by people. It gave the Accountant the space to concentrate on much higher value added services. The newest wave which incorporates artificial intelligence, machine learning, natural language processing can now tackle these high value added services and accomplish in hours what it takes humans weeks to complete. These technologies are already being rolled out in other business niches, including the insurance industry and banking. Now, we are seeing larger accounting firms using natural language processing for document review, machine learning for anomaly detection and artificial intelligence to create increasingly complex and accurate financial models.

AI is even making a foray into the auditing process in terms of being able to extract and manage that data and being able to use it to interpret results. Audit quality is being enhanced will at the same time reducing the costs. By feeding the AI with data from a client’s complex ERP systems you can feed that back into the audit to really minimize the burden on the client’s internal resources in support of the audit.

All this new technology is going to require that people in the accounting profession learn new skills and keep up their constant personal development as they do not want to be left behind by the technological change. Latest estimates are that 7% of all jobs will be replaced by artificial intelligence by 2025 and there is no reason to think the Accounting profession will be immune. While artificial intelligence is replacing humans with machines for making decision like who qualifies for small business loans it will still be humans working with artificial intelligence tools that will be auditing the loan portfolios and looking for ways to program them to make better repayment predictions through their automated processes. So the need for skilled accounting professionals will continue but in the future Accountants are likely to be much more comfortable with writing and interpreting computer code in the same way that todays accounts are comfortable doing financial calculations.

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