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Tax and accounting

Why robots could make our jobs more interesting

Brian Peccarelli  President, Tax & Accounting, Thomson Reuters

Brian Peccarelli  President, Tax & Accounting, Thomson Reuters

How tax and accounting professionals are evolving in the midst of automation

Will you lose your job to a robot? For many of us, the answer is likely yes. The Bank of England has predicted that machines could take over 80 million American and 15 million British jobs over the next 10 to 20 years. That’s roughly 50% of the workforce in each country. However, for those of us that understand the importance of adapting our mindset and evolving our skills amidst robotic domination, we may not only save our jobs, but make them a lot more interesting.

Take the tax and accounting profession. It’s one I know well. Not so long ago, accountants were spending long hours manually entering taxpayer data and sifting through loads of paperwork. In the corporate tax department, tax professionals spent their days scrutinizing thousands of spreadsheets line-by-line—and one wrong input could bring significant financial repercussions to their company.

Enter automation (robots, if you will) where tax inputs and workflow processes are streamlined and standardized using technology. The result is more accurate results in less time. At face-value, this is could be a scary thought: robots can do it better? Yes, they can. However, a deeper view uncovers a profound shift. Less focus on manual, repetitive and time-consuming tasks opens the door to evolving the perception of the tax and accounting professional—and provides an opportunity for more interesting and valuable work along the way.

The forward-thinking accounting firm

shutterstock_348911006-lrMany accountants who were once overloaded with tedious paperwork have taken advantage of automation through technology and evolved their practice into one that provides clients with more consulting and advisory-based services, in addition to standard tax preparation and compliance. This consultative approach is not only more lucrative, but can also be more fulfilling.

Take Mark Martukovich, president of Fox, Martukovich and Associates, CPA, based in Clearwater, Florida. Instead of shying away from the technology that may have taken his job, Mark used it to his advantage to streamline his firm’s processes, freeing up valuable time to provide more advisory and consulting-based services.

As a former commercial banker, Mark worked with many companies on their financing and understanding their financials. He took that experience to develop a service model for his accounting firm that assists clients with more than just a tax return.

“Our firm has traditionally given away a lot of information. People would ask us questions and we would give them an answer and move on. We really didn’t have the opportunity or the wherewithal to try to monetize that,” he said. “After defining what represents tax compliance versus what is involved in business advisory services, we’ve been able to realize higher income—and provide more valuable services to our clients.”

By offering personalized financial guidance and support, Mark and his team are building deeper relationships with clients and truly supporting them as they grow their businesses. The result is more compelling work, higher profits, and a type of relationship that robots just can’t replicate.

“I see the accounting profession moving toward more of a consultative model. Clients will have access to their own tax information, but will want somebody to interpret it instead of just inputting numbers into their tax return,” he said.

The new face of the corporate tax department

The corporate tax department, once overloaded with thousands of tangled spreadsheets, process inefficiencies, and ever-evolving tax rates and legislation, has transformed by using robot-like automation to maximize tax process effectiveness. And in today’s world of regulatory complexity, growing globalization, increased scrutiny, and internal pressures of “do more with less,” the importance of embracing technology couldn’t be more important.

When Judy Hamric joined the corporate tax department at TMS International, she knew the company’s spreadsheet-based provision process had major risks behind it. As a growing international company that would eventually include 27 foreign subsidiaries, TMS simply had too much volume to continue with its current tax processes. With a creative drive and a strong ability to visualize data flow, she understood how tax technology could transform processes. And because she had worked through the manual processes in years past, she had a true appreciation for the time savings and accuracy that technology offered.

“Many people think there is only one solution to a problem, but if you have a creative side, you think differently,” she said.

Through automation, Judy increased the company’s internal provision efficiency by 50%, audit efficiency by 20%-30%, and realized a significant reduction in provision closing time. Additionally, her team’s standardized work papers and reports facilitate controls for SOX compliance globally.

With the time savings gained, Judy and her team have more time to focus on strategic activities, like planning and analysis. These activities are not only much more valuable to her company, but are much more interesting to her team members. She’s also developed stronger relationships across departmental lines, working closely with finance and IT like never before—a connection only humans could foster.

The human touch: A competitive advantage

As technology advances, we can either fret over robots taking our jobs, or do something about it. By capitalizing on our personality, relationships, creativity and experience, we can carve out our jobs of the future. The tax and accounting industry is a perfect example. By allowing robots to take over the mundane, repetitive tasks, we can use our “human touch” as a competitive advantage. And hey, our work may just get a lot more interesting as well.

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