In a quote that, for once, is actually officially attributable to the person it’s attributed to, Bill Gates warned us, “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10.”
On the assumption that he’s correct, I’m predicting that absolutely nothing will change between now and 2019, but that 2027 will be completely unrecognizable. To get some notion of what it might actually look like, we recently enlisted the help of a hundred or so leaders of the accounting profession to share their thoughts on how the accountant of 10 years down the road will differ from their counterpart today.
Since I wouldn’t want to underestimate a decade’s worth of changes, I thought I’d combine their predictions to create a composite portrait of the most extreme version of what the life of an accountant might look like on an average day in November 2027. Here goes:
In the morning, just before leaving her house, she runs a set of diagnostics on her personal cloud, updating software patches, checking on the unimpeded flow of data from client and firm systems, and making sure that both her AI assistant and her customized set of analytical and reporting tools remain uncompromised and functioning above acceptable thresholds.
Then she commutes to work watching an interactive video on a new set of social media ransombots; overnight, bots had attacked her SM brand, setting up false accounts under her name and spewing out damaging messages for 4.2 seconds before her insurance company’s leukobots isolated and destroyed them. At the end of the video, she upgrades to a plan that offers a higher level of pre-claim protection; her firm will pay for it, as they expect her to maintain a strong personal brand (and help protect theirs).
On this day (as on many), “work” starts at the office of a client, where she has arranged a meeting with the client’s CFO and HR director, as well as a freelance labor economist she often partners with, to discuss staffing needs over the next six months, since the client relies heavily on seasonal employees.
Afterward, she confirms with the CFO and the CFO’s AI assistant that the company’s tax data and projections are ready for use; she never does any tax work herself, but since it’s November, she needs to book a slot on her firm’s AI for preparing the client’s preliminary tax return, as well as a spot in the to-do queue of the firm’s tax partner to review the results before circling back with the client to suggest tax optimization strategies that can improve on the preliminary return before year’s end.
For most of the afternoon, she reviews the results of the comparative analyses her AI assistant has been running on a half a dozen of her top clients, benchmarking them against a recently released set of data on their industry. She confirms each analysis, annotates them to reflect the individual client’s position, then forwards them with suggestions and, where appropriate, a recommendation for a further meeting.
Halfway through the analyses, she takes a break to attend a virtual briefing on a new set of security protocols on the user keys of the blockchain model her firm implements. She knows these will present problems for a handful of her less-tech-savvy clients, and so schedules extra training time for them.
Toward the end of the day, on a conference video with a prospect in Buenos Aires, she explains (for the thousandth time, it seems) that she didn’t originally plan to be an accountant — she studied programming at college, but graduated during the recent tech downturn, and went to a Big Six firm because they were hiring and it seemed like a safe way to pay off some student loan debt for a couple of years. But there she discovered that accounting wasn’t anything like what she expected — it was more dynamic, more varied and more exciting than she’d ever imagined.