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AI in Accounting: The Essential Skills for a Future-Proof Career

  • Publish Date: Posted about 1 month ago
  • Author:by Rebecca Crossfield

AI in accounting isn't science fiction anymore. Steve Hare, the CEO of accounting software Sage, believes that AI will change the nature of the Accountancy sector, and that job-tasks will shift significantly. This may sound alarming, but as a Recruitment Consultant working in the Accountancy and Finance sectors, I see this as a massive opportunity – for those prepared to adapt.

In this guide, we'll break down the accounting skills that are becoming essential in this era of intelligent automation. We'll look at the hard technical expertise that remains irreplaceable and the soft skills that will make you invaluable in an AI-driven workplace.

How Artificial Intelligence is Changing Accounting

First, let's get on the same page about what AI in accounting actually looks like. It's not about robots taking over the office (yet!). Right now, AI is most commonly used for:

  • Data entry and reconciliation: AI can automatically extract information from invoices, receipts, and bank statements, drastically reducing the time spent on manual data entry and minimising errors.

  • Transaction classification and coding: Machine learning algorithms can analyse transaction data and accurately classify them into the correct accounting categories, saving accountants valuable time and ensuring consistency.

  • Risk assessment and fraud detection: AI can identify patterns and anomalies in financial data that may indicate fraudulent activity, helping to protect businesses from financial losses.

  • Financial reporting and analysis: AI can generate reports, summarise key findings, and even provide predictive insights based on historical data.

The benefits of AI in accounting are clear: increased speed, accuracy, and efficiency. In fact, a recent study found that 86% of auditing staff agree that AI reduces the time spent on the most repetitive tasks. But does this mean accountants are out of a job?

Far from it.

Instead, AI is creating new opportunities for those with the right skills.

More High-Skilled Jobs: The Rise of the AI-Savvy Accountant

The rise of AI in accounting will lead to a greater demand for highly skilled professionals who can leverage these technologies effectively. Accountants with expertise in data science, machine learning, and AI tools will be particularly sought after, being responsible for overseeing AI implementations, interpreting results, and ensuring the accuracy and reliability of AI-generated outputs. This can already be seen across the Accountancy employment landscape, and this trend is only set to accelerate in the coming years. 

A woman looking at financial and accounting data, spread across several pieces of paper and a laptop. She is also using a white calculator

Hard Skills that AI Can't Replace

AI excels at routine, rule-based tasks, but there are certain hard skills where humans remain indispensable:

  • Technical Accounting Expertise: Accounting standards, regulations, and complex financial instruments aren't going anywhere. AI needs accountants who understand the intricacies of the field to ensure the accuracy and integrity of financial information and interpret results.

  • Data Analytics: AI relies on data, but it can't clean messy data or understand the nuances of what the data means. Accountants who can analyse data, identify trends, and derive actionable insights will be highly sought after. It's one thing to have a machine tell you about correlations in data, but understanding why this is happening is another, and that's where accounting professionals come in.

  • Financial Modelling: AI can crunch numbers, but it can't strategise. Building complex financial models that factor in market trends, business risks, and potential scenarios will always require human judgment and expertise. Accountants with strong financial modelling skills will continue to be in high demand.

Soft Skills for the AI Age

Being an expert in the field will always be crucial, but the future of accounting goes beyond just technical skills. With the rise of AI, certain soft skills are becoming increasingly important:

  • Critical Thinking: While AI can perform complex calculations, it is not infallible. Accountants must possess the ability to critically evaluate AI-generated outputs, identify any potential biases or errors, and exercise independent judgment.

  • Adaptability: The accounting profession is constantly evolving, and AI is accelerating that change. Accountants who are willing to embrace lifelong learning and continuously develop their skillset will be well-positioned to thrive in the AI era. This means staying up-to-date on the latest AI developments, attending relevant training courses and workshops, and actively seeking out new challenges and opportunities to learn.

  • Communication & Collaboration: As AI becomes more prevalent in accounting, accountants must be able to effectively communicate complex AI findings to non-technical stakeholders. Clear and concise explanations are crucial in ensuring that decision-makers understand the implications of AI-generated data. Additionally, collaboration with data scientists and IT professionals is essential for leveraging AI tools effectively.

Developing Your AI-Savvy Skillset

So, how do you get started?

  • Join professional organizations: Look for groups like the ICAEW's IT Faculty or the ACCA's Digital Mindset initiative, which offer resources and networking opportunities for accountants interested in technology.

  • Follow industry publications: Stay up-to-date on the latest trends in AI and accounting by reading publications like AccountingWEB, Accounting Today, and the Journal of Accountancy.

  • Don't neglect traditional accounting knowledge: Remember, AI is a tool, not a replacement. A strong foundation in accounting principles and practices will always be essential.

Several people collaborating on accounting data, using a laptop, calculator, and tablet

Select Recruitment Specialists

Is accounting still in demand? Absolutely! But the demand is shifting towards professionals who are "AI-ready." The shift goes both ways too, with skilled professionals now seeking companies that are looking to get the most out of AI, as they prepare for this new future. Datasnipper’s “The State of AI in Audit in 2024” report shows that 83% of auditing staff surveyed would be more likely to stay at a company using AI, demonstrating its value in retention.

So if this sounds like you, where do you go from here? If you're an accountant looking to future-proof your career or a firm seeking to attract top talent in this exciting new era, Select Recruitment Specialists is here to help. We have a deep understanding of the evolving accounting landscape and the skills that are in demand. Contact us today to learn how we can help you make your next career move or find the perfect candidate to strengthen your team.

Author:

Rebecca Crossfield - Senior Recruitment Specialist, Accountancy & Finance and Office Support

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