Practice Leader, International Business Services
I just finished reading “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerization?” by C. Frey and M. Osborne. According to a study by these authors, the accounting industry is the second most likely profession to experience significant job losses in the next two decades due to technology (with a 94% probability rating) right behind telemarketers who stand little chance of surviving according to the survey with a 99% probability rating. Concerned by these alarming statistics, I took the time to reflect on the future of my job, our firm and our profession. There is no doubt that there is a clear trend happening in the world and it is important to understand and prepare for it. Intelligent robots are coming and soon we will be working and competing against these machines. Just like cars and planes will drive themselves, robots will be performing many of the repeatable tasks done by humans today. They will do them faster, better and cheaper. It is easy to list many tasks done today by young professionals fresh out of schools working in tax, audit and even consulting that fit that definition. The accounting profession will certainly not be spared and I will not argue with C. Frey and M. Osborne.
However, just like the industrial revolution of the 19th Century and all its new machines, that produced a massive amount of new jobs despite many early doomsday predictions, this trend will create tremendous new needs and opportunities for people with the right skills and attributes. On this basis I tried to define what I believe are the skills we will need in order to avoid obsolescence. So here is my list for what it is worth:
- People skills. This is the ability to lead, convince, motivate or manage others
- Creativity. This is the ability to imagine new designs, ways, solutions or models
- Strategic thinking. This is the ability to forecast, plan, anticipate and take advantage of opportunities and developing trends
- Communication skills. This is the ability to clarify and energize either orally or in writing
- Adaptability. This is the ability to change, adapt, learn and improve constantly
- Transversality. This is the ability to understand and take into account the impact of our decisions across the spectrum of an entire organization to ensure that what seems like a sound decision doesn’t produce disastrous unexpected indirect effects
Reflecting upon the above I realized that most of what I am doing today in leading our International Business Service Line already requires the skills that I have described in order to be successful. I would even venture to assert that most leaders within professional service firms today probably feel the same way. Our profession has changed in drastic ways over the last 10 years; new generations are compelling us to adopt new management style as a result of different expectations and demands, the market is forcing us to reinvent our business models in order to respond to intense price pressure, clients and prospects are demanding more focus and relevance from their service providers as a result of increased competition, regulators are responding to new and fast emerging threats by imposing complex and ever changing rules, and as if it were not enough, technology is acting as a powerful enabler and catalyst to it all, just to make sure we stay awake at night. So in effect these trends are not new. Yet they are not gimmicks either and are here to stay. The future will simply increase the speed of change and along with it the intensity of the need to adapt. Many firms have already recognized the imperative necessity to respond to these powerful trends and have begun rethinking their leadership, talent management, client service, risk management, business development and market connectivity approach.
Just like there is no doubt that our profession will be significantly impacted by computerization, technological change and complexity will spare few and most of our clients will feel an ever increasing need for clarity, solution, transparency and efficiency. This will create tremendous opportunities for professional services firm who are properly equipped and well? positioned. Even if we can anticipate that most data entry, data analysis, form filling, ticking and tying, reconciling, and even researching tasks will be done by computers and will therefore lead to the elimination of jobs, technology will also enable us to spend more time understanding, projecting, imagining, strategizing and concluding on behalf of our clients. Tasks that will have to be performed by people possessing the skills noted above. Not only does this correspond exactly to the expectations of the new generations who demand meaningful and interesting jobs, but it also fits perfectly with what the market is asking of us; value for money. Now that I have thought it through, I am no longer concerned by C. Frey and M. Osborne’s interesting book.