Professional accountancy is not for wimps. Drawing on her many years of experience, Alison Thomas offers some light-hearted advice
This article was first published in the May 2018 UK edition of Accounting and Business magazine.
Q Will artificial intelligence take over my job?
A I grew up in a remarkable period of history. The digital age collided with the space age to create an explosive cocktail of hopes and fears about a world of unbounded scientific progress. At school, we learnt that automation was inevitable and that limitless leisure time would define our lives. I’m still waiting.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m the last to underplay the significance of the enormous changes that technology has brought to our lives. But despite media hype about artificial intelligence (AI), in reality I suspect we’ve a way to go until we can put our feet up and let Robbie the Robot get on with things.
Still, no one can deny that the working day is changing. And the accountant is far from immune from this trend. ACCA has published in-depth research that examines the future of accountancy, Professional accountants – the future. A recurring theme is that the finance function is going digital.
But this is far from all doom and gloom. When I started working, I spent hours each day typing numbers into spreadsheets or doing calculations on scraps of paper. Thankfully much of that donkey work has gone. And long may that trend continue. As ACCA’s report, Race for relevance: technology opportunities for the finance function. says (see page 64): ‘Change will also open up new opportunities for those who wish to take them, as finance is able to move up the value chain.’ That may not mean limitless leisure time, but it doesn’t sound all that bad to me.
Q Do you think the new insurance standard works?
A In all honesty, I don’t know. Conceptually, I understand what the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) is trying to do. But in practice, will IFRS 17, Insurance Contracts, deliver the information investors need?
I am cautiously optimistic but I don’t think we’ll know for certain until we have a pile of reports in front of us.
What I can say, however, is that in the absence of a unifying standard, the global insurance industry is basically a no-go area for vast swathes of investors. There are simply not enough hours in the day for a time-pressed international portfolio manager to wade through the rules that govern each territory’s reporting.
So for the sake of happy capital markets, I hope that, as the time to implement the insurance standard approaches, all involved will have a good huddle to make the disclosures as useful as they can be.
Q My son tells me that English literature and history courses at universities are increasingly coming with ‘trigger warnings’. How long will it be until accounting goes the same way?
A For those who have not encountered the term, trigger warnings are a bit like the ‘viewer discretion advised’ notices at the start of movies – only applied to works of literature, accounts of historical events, and so on. As with many such initiatives, the original intent was worthy – to protect people who have suffered from assault or other bad experiences from being blind-sided by content that could trigger a traumatic memory.
But, as so often happens, things have got a little out of hand, with many of the great classics now deemed to be potentially dangerous to the reader. The Great Gatsby, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Shakespeare, among others, are considered so distressing that students in some colleges are allowed to skip classes that include such works.
Will trigger warnings spread to accounting? If it allows students to miss classes, then I suspect its just matter of time. And lets face it, a discussion of one’s tangible assets or, heaven forbid, one’s bottom line, could easily leave poor Johnny scarred for life.
Alison Thomas is a consultant
"In reality I suspect we’ve got a way to go until we can put our feet up and let Robbie the robot get on with things"