Skills and gender gaps: Will accountancy firms need to upskill in 2022 when tax goes digital?

Playing an essential role when it comes to tax, accountants ensure businesses meet regulations and laws, an indispensable factor that machines will find hard to replicate. So, it is safe to say that the role of the accountant isn’t dying nor obsolete in the era of digital transformation, it is merely shifting.

To keep ahead of the game, those in the accounting industry must be aware of the changes that are coming their way. In fact, we are already seeing the impact of the transformation this sector has gone through the past few years.

The death of lower-level jobs

Some roles in the accountancy profession, such as those involving data entry, have been lost to technology.

With companies requiring tight control over their finances in the current economic climate, we have seen huge demand for several roles, including accounts receivable, credit control, accounts payable and credit analysis positions. As the economic downturn continues, organisations will persist in prioritising work around costs, analysis and forecasting – creating a need for both cost accountants, as well as those specialising in financial planning and analysis.

The accounting industry is continuing to find ways to streamline systems and processes. From an efficiency perspective, many businesses are looking to adopt shared service centres for their accounts functions.

While accounting firms may, in the future, be trimmed down, there will be plenty of opportunity for those whose jobs may be at risk. Employers can upskill their existing workforce to help futureproof the organisation focusing on the likes of process improvement, cost control, and capital optimisation.

Accountancy professionals shouldn’t see tech developments as a threat to their jobs but should approach them as a new opportunity to upskill.

The skills gap MTD is driving

When it comes to the role Making Tax Digital (MTD) will play in the accountancy industry, it’s clear tax software is unable to give tailored advice and, therefore, accountants are still needed to assist when complex tax affairs are at hand.

Finance professionals do more complicated tasks that tech will struggle with, such as understanding multiple tax laws in a variety of jurisdictions. Consultants also do more complicated qualitative work, such as advising on tax planning, discussing operations, reviewing client goals and more.

Therefore, the human element will always be necessary in finance, even in the face of advanced tech like artificial intelligence (AI). It takes computers a long time to learn and understand patterns from the large volumes of data they process. Systems today still aren’t very flexible and require a lot of data before they can work effectively.

This means the skills which are needed in the industry will have a focus around the irreplaceable ‘human’ element. Accountants will need to begin to develop more soft skills on top of those that are traditionally prized within accounting, including getting to grips with tax software.

Such soft skills will include communication, cognitive or emotional empathy, time management, teamwork and leadership traits. More specifically, for accountants, this will also include strong analytical skills, as the importance of being able to analyse a big set of data is growing.

Further, according to the World Economic Forum’s Jobs of the Future 2020 report, the top skills and skill groups that employers see as rising in prominence in the lead up to 2025 include things like critical thinking and analysis, as well as problem-solving and skills in self-management such as active learning, resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility.

There is also growing demand for data analysts, data scientists, big data specialists, digital transformation specialists, and information technology services – roles which accountants have transferable skills to move into if they wanted to upskill to another industry.

If firms want to survive, embracing MTD and accounting technology will be to their benefit, so long as they ensure employees have the relevant skills that tech cannot fill.

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