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AI vs accounting education – who will prevail?
There are so many questions about how AI will impact education of accountants. Many of these questions have been around for years. Here are some of them:
1. Why teach accounting at all if AI can do it?
2. How do our new accountants get experience if tech is doing all the mundane work they used to work on?
3. How can new graduates evaluate if AI is getting the right answer if they have nothing to compare to?
4. How does training inside public accounting prepare you to advise your business owner clients?
In the context of this, AI already has strong technical knowledge. It recently achieved the 93rd percentile in our CPA Public Accounting hiring test, and 18/20 in our Debits and Credits test. It's also improving continually. We've also seen some failures, including when Accounting Today put it through its paces on the CPA Exam and it failed. But it's here to stay and only growing in importance.
Accountants have always used a combination of their technical knowledge and communication skills to advise clients. In the past some accountants have very much worked out of the "back room" compiling tax returns and financials — 100% using their technical knowledge but 0% using their communication. Those back room jobs have been challenged for years, and AI is going to make a further significant dent in the need for those. Imagine when AI can review a set of financials, consider specific account codes, compare the language of invoices loaded against tax rules, and highlight just the transactions that need human review — along with proposed journal entries. This is not far away. Similarly, clients being led through tax return preparation by a bot, with maybe a final human overview. It's already here.
Doing these tasks, and the technical knowledge that goes with them, is the focus of our educational system. It's also how graduate accountants learn both the practical knowledge they need, while experiencing providing increasingly complex advice in a safe setting.
The danger for the profession is, if we ask educators and firms what they see needs to change, it's likely to follow Henry Ford's famous quote: "If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses" (apparently he never actually said that, but let's not let the truth spoil a great story). So, in the spirit of Henry Ford, where we just put everything up for challenge, here are some ideas to do things differently:
1. Earn while you learn: On-the-job training and getting experience are just as valuable as college degrees — and we need to start on placements and apprenticeships much earlier.
2. Make industry and corporate secondments a compulsory part of public accounting training. For me, four years in various small and midsized entities was an invaluable life and accounting lesson I was able to draw on for all my public accounting career.
3. Use modern software options as part of learning. Although learning of software is not a college-level activity, using that software as part of learning provides part of the experience requirement, even while studying.
4. Focus work experience licensing requirements on the breadth and depth of experience. Working for a year as a junior auditor in a Big Four environment is not suitable grounding to justify a CPA license.
Those education providers who grasp this need to change will see their candidates in hot demand. Those who insist on their students studying in traditional ways will find employers might look elsewhere.
Originally published: https://www.accountingtoday.com/opinion/ai-vs-accounting-education-who-will-prevail
About the Authors
Giles Pearson FCA was a PwC Partner for 18 years before jointly setting up Accountests.
Steve Evans has a whole career dedicated to enabling employers to attract, recruit, develop and retain talented individuals and teams, with particular expertise in candidate testing and assessment before setting up Accountests.
Accountests deliver the world’s only online suite of annually updated and country-specific technical knowledge tests designed by accountants for accountants and bookkeepers.