Accountants: Robots Vs Zombies

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A little story to lead you into this:

I have a ten year-old daughter.

Needless to say, she watches the Disney Channel. A recent film by Disney was called Zombies. Not exactly a standard zombie movie, it has musical numbers in place of brains being eaten, not a Boomstick or a Lucille in sight, and the zombies can talk and go to school.

Its certainly not canon for Zombie films (1), but it’s a nice entry for kids into the Romero world.

So the day after she watched the film, on the way to school, in place of the Ariana Grande, Oasis, Queen and Little Mix playlist she picked out some of the songs from the film. I asked her a question.

“Would you rather there was a Zombie Apocalypse, or a Robot Apocalypse?”

After I explained what an “Apocalypse” is, she mulled it over for around two seconds before responding with “Zombies”.

“If its robots then we won’t stand a chance, zombies are slow and stupid but robots can fly and use the internet”.

It was one of my proudest moments. Sound reasoning, and this is from a 10 year old who hasn’t seen Terminator or Dawn of the Dead.

According to many in the accountancy world, the journey to the more dangerous of these two has begun.

Apparently my chosen profession is going to be one of the first to be taken over by the machines. I even know the date. Its 7th August 2019 (2), judgement day for accountants.

This is the date that Making Tax Digital (MTD) is rolled out by HMRC, and all VAT registered businesses need to have a compliant accountancy package to file their VAT returns.

7th August 2019 is the deadline. The first quarter that will fall under the legislation is 30 June 2019.

As such, the software will do it all. Everything will be automated. Accountants will be made redundant, and be living on the streets. The Sage, Xero and Quickbooks packages that we have been promoting and selling to clients will replace us. We are the architects of our own downfall.

Except, I don’t believe it. And nor should any other accountant.

Throughout history there have been technological challenges and developments to which we adapt, adopt and thrive. People are still employed in the textile industry 248 years after James Hargreaves patented the Spinning Jenny. The artists drawing storyboards for advertising agencies in the 60s are now digital designers in Digital Agencies with a Macbook as their canvas. Groundworkers can now use Backhoes and JCB’s to create building foundations, rather than a shovel.

The skills and people aren’t replaced. Their role is augmented by the improved tools at their disposal. We can do more, with less.

Accounts will still be accounts, the wheel has not been reinvented. The same principals that are applied to manual handwritten records and excel spreadsheets still apply to commercial software.

I am in no doubt that the role will change. The amount of data entry will reduce for accountants, with the automation shouldering the more mundane aspects.

A risk to the profession is that, if a large proportion of data entry and processing is removed, will core skills remain? There will no longer be the potential for Daniel-san/Mr Miyagi paint-the-fence training through repetition.

But then again, does there need to be if software can take care of the data entry?

Personally, I don’t even trust Alexa and Siri to understand what colour we want our Philips Hue to be half the time, so the data and the reporting will need to be checked.

But even if Skynet - the software - can perform the compliance with 100% accuracy, that is never really where the true value in accountancy rests.

The most successful clients of mine recognise this. Those that thrive the most are the ones who we hear from the most, even on matters unrelated to pure accountancy issues.

That isn’t to say that my advice is the reason. I suspect its in the nature of the successful business owner to source numerous opinions and use these to make more informed decisions.

There will always be the need for compliance, but with the impending changes it should mean that the focus can shift from a what has happened view to a “where are we going” roadmap.

Information on a timely basis, with sound interpretation, is where the true value lies. Both for the client — in terms of excellent quality advice — and also for the accountant — for job satisfaction and a more interesting challenge.

Large corporates don’t have management accounts teams just for compliance. They are there for management information and decision making. SME’s and their accountants should take the same view.

Many businesses and accountants will have a step change in their systems and practices, but in my opinion the change is for the best for all involved.

And remember, as The Accounts Kid said, best to side with the Robots now because we will need them to help us when the Zombies come…

(1) The top five would be Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Evil Dead, 28 Days Later and Zombieland.

(2) James Cameron predicted 29th August 1997 for the original judgement day.