The end of accountants?

Apr 22, 2013 | Business messaging and branding, Pricing

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 back 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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