The end of accountants?

In early 2013 Professor Richard Susskind published a new book, ‘Tomorrow’s lawyers’. This included some updated observations of the views expressed in his previous book, published in 2008: The End of Lawyers? Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services.

As I share many of Professor Susskind’s views I thought I would pick out one theme for this blog. He has been suggesting that technology and standardisation would make lawyers less important. Even five years ago, in 2008, he felt that this was already having a major impact on the structure and future of law firms. Professor Susskind was clear that he thought the same principles would also apply to other service professionals. Could the same be true of accountants and tax advisers for example?

Professor Susskind effectively urges readers to ask yourself, with your hand on your heart, what elements of your current workload could be undertaken differently – more quickly, cheaply, efficiently, or to a higher quality – using alternative methods of working? The challenge we face is to identify what distinctive skills, talents and capabilities you possess that cannot, crudely, be replaced by advanced systems or by less costly workers supported by technology or standard processes, or by lay people armed with online self-help tools.

Professor Susskind’s view is that the market is unlikely to tolerate expensive advice that can be better provided through automation, low cost online facilities and the support of modern systems and techniques. I would agree. He also suggested that the legal profession will be driven by two forces in the coming decade:

  1. by a market pull towards the commoditisation of legal services, and
  2. by the pervasive development and uptake of new and disruptive legal technologies.

Again, similar changes have been impacting the accounting profession over the last five years. However I don’t think the changes have yet been as dramatic as Professor Susskind was predicting. But in essence I am sure he was right and that there lessons here for ambitious accountants.  I’m not sure that ‘technology and standardisation’ are making accountants less important but the role is evolving – in much the way that some accountancy commentators have been predicting for a lot more than five years.

As I have long maintained, most accountants evolve and change only when they absolutely need to do so. This often means that the extent of the changes are only obvious when we look back and think how different things were even just a few years ago. If you don’t think much has changed then perhaps your memory is playing tricks on you. Or are you resisting the impact of ‘technology and standardisation’? How much longer is that approach sustainable I wonder?

I am relieved that Professor Susskind believes that there will continue to be a market for bespoke advice and that many people will continue to be willing to pay for expert judgment, intuition and the application and communication of complex expertise. I was relieved to hear that in 2008 and I think it is still true now. After all, that’s just what the Tax Advice Network is all about!

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Mark Lee

Mark is a speaker, mentor, facilitator, author, blogger and debunker. Mark Lee helps professionals who want to STAND OUT and be remembered, referred and recommended using his 7 fundamental principles to create a more powerful professional impact, online and face to face.
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4 replies
  1. Malcolm Veall
    Malcolm Veall says:

    Mark, I think you & Prof Susskind are exactly right – in the “small” business end of the market this will rush towards us as Cash Accounting for small sole traders and EU Micro Accounting simplification of company accounts come in.

    Reply
  2. Chris Maslin
    Chris Maslin says:

    I 100% agree.

    The distinction between bookkeeping packages (traditionally used by clients) and final accounts/tax return packages (traditionally used by accountants) is becoming blurred. More sophisticated bookkeeping packages have been doing online submissions of VAT over the last couple of years, and now payroll due to RTI. It’s only a matter of time before the developers enable them to also submit statutory accounts, as well as corporate/personal tax returns online to Companies House/HMRC respectively. At this point, I think many business owners will question the need for an accountant.

    Of course having software that enables you to DIY doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll submit the right numbers. Possibly the above will be a trend that Companies House/HMRC come to dislike, as they may find an increase in errors in the figures they receive.

    So perhaps in the future we’ll only be required for:
    – sorting out messes retrospectively where clients DIY file incorrect figures,
    – things like mortgage references where lenders want to see a qualified person sign off figures,
    – only the more complex situations than a typical simple business.

    Reply
  3. Ruardt
    Ruardt says:

    Thanks for the good news Mark! Professions require professional judgement, something no computer has yet! It is different from logic and only found in humans. Glad we are still needed!

    Reply

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