AI can’t replace accountants

  • Education
  • Sunday, 22 Mar 2020

Prof McNamara showing a chart of jobs that are open to accounting graduates.

YES, automation exists in accounting. And no, you won’t lose your job to it.

Since its existence in 1970s, the Sunway University Business School Department of Accounting has not seen a decrease in the number of accounting jobs, says its head Prof Raymond Patrick McNamara.

In fact, there are still a lot of accounting-related posts out there and according to a 2018 Tracer Study, 95% of accounting and finance graduates find employment within six months of graduating.

On Jobstreet Malaysia, there are about 3,400 accounting positions in Malaysia with about 1,300 of them within the taxation sector at the beginning this year, he notes.

He says there is in fact a shortage of accountants as many don’t remain in that role throughout their career, especially in big firms.

“If you go into the corporate field, you can work your way up to chief executive officer, chief financial officer or managing director.”

Individuals in these roles spend more time doing negotiations for the company and helping to chart the company’s direction, he adds.

He says that an accountant’s role is essentially to provide information and assure that the information is correct.

“So, there’s no need to worry that accounting jobs will be gone anytime soon due to IR4.0.

“Don’t confuse accounting with bookkeeping.”

He explains that bookkeeping is the actual recording of the transaction and this was already automated since the 70s.

That process continues to be automated. So, big transactions in those companies like payroll and accounts payable have been outsourced to companies that specialise in doing just this, he says.

“These areas are also easy to automate because it’s fairly routine, ” he says, adding that these jobs have been slowly disappearing over the past 50 years.

Although bookkeeping roles have been automated, accountants still need to know how to do it to ensure there is no wrong information logged into the systems.

In the end, their job is still to supervise the automated processes.

An accountant, he says, has to pay close attention to the systems.

Some of these systems are taught to accounting degree students in a standard subject called Accounting Information Systems.

This subject covers, among others, the controls within accounting computer systems to ensure that there is no fraud and that information is complete, accurate and timely.

“For example, accountants need to be alert to ensure credit fraud does not occur.

“Some computer systems would not be able to detect transaction flaws like charging interest on credit cards when the bill has already been paid but not reflected in the system.

“This is where an accountant’s keen eye is needed as this is not an easily automated process.”

Human intelligence, he adds, is still needed to think of ways that fraud can be committed and to ensure that the computer systems are not compromised.

Although artificial intelligence (AI) looks like it can do this “thinking” for us, the sky high cost means only massive firms can afford them, he continues.

He says that there has been talk of AI taking over credit scoring but that hasn’t materialised.

“Both Google and Facebook said they were going to do it but they haven’t.

“It’s not as easy as people think. You hear that computers are better at forecasting than humans are but there’s no research evidence to support that, ” he adds.

The field of forensic auditing is being affected by IR4.0 though, he says, adding that this is due to developments in data analysis.

Cybercrime, he says, is an area of great concern and it’s where one needs a combination of auditing and technological skills.

“You can train as an auditor but you also need to be trained in technology. We want to get our students future-ready.

“We give them the thinking skills that make them adaptive, ” he says, stressing that accountants need to understand why a process exists and why it needs to be enhanced to prevent fraud.

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