The Changing Role of the Accountant

Bruce Nunn's picture

According to a United States Department of Labor study in 2014, jobs in accounting and bookkeeping are expected to decline 8% over the next 10 years (2014 – 2024), while general employment (all occupations) is expected in increase by 7% over this same period. Technology is stated as the primary factor that has caused a decrease in demand for accounting jobs.

Technology and the Internet have changed the processes of the accounting department. The Canadian Payments Association noted that paper cheques represented  87% of payment transactions in 1990, while electronic payments were a mere 13%. By 2010 these statistics were reversed. Paper payments represented 15% of transactions and electronic payments were 85% of transactions.  

Computer automation has changed the complexion of finance and accounting. Although software automation has been around for decades, the cost and sophistication have made these tools accessible to even the smallest of businesses. Data entry is still alive and well, although new technologies have significantly reduced the effort. Electronic billing and payment systems have reduced cost while increasing efficiencies. The cost of paper cheques and the postage to mail them have been completely eliminated.

The role of the accountant is now changing in response to computer automation. The role is adapting to that of financial oversight and management support. Today’s CPA is being educated about financial performance monitoring, audit controls, corporate governance and ethics. As the accounting department gains proficiency with its automation systems, the controllership role is able to provide strategic advice in regards to finance, business trends, and the financial performance of the organization. CPAs are quick to spot areas of the business that need attention due to under-performance (or even over-performance).  

Does this really happen in small business? Well, yes and no. Small businesses have greater challenges. The personnel in the accounting department need training to upgrade their skills. The controller needs to have the support of management to raise issues that are potentially breeches of business ethics or breeches of governance policies. In small business, this is a serious challenge. It requires the commitment of management to fund training, and support the potential “whistle blower” without impacting the accountant’s career at the company. It also requires that wages are commensurate with the responsibilities of the role. There is a cost to supporting the modern accounting office. For some small business owners, it represents changing the way it perceives the role of the accounting function.  

For government regulated industries, this change will be mandated, regardless of the size of business. For small business, it will take time. There is no argument that experienced accountants will continue to be invaluable advisors – and integral to the growth of small businesses.