Mind the gap! Fintech vs. the desired skillset of employees in finance & accounting
Is the technology going to steal all our jobs? Not any time soon, but … the change is happening … and money is flowing to fintech: the global fintech market was valued at about $128 billion USD in 2018, but it is expected to grow to $310 billion through 2022. Fintech solutions are massively implemented in all financial services. In accounting and auditing, blockchain, smart contracts, internet of things (IoT), and AI are massively replacing human element in functions like bookkeeping, budgeting, reconciliation, and in the near future will enable fully automated audits. It is particularly important for current students, who should no longer learn “old-school” finance and accounting, but who need to acquire ever more skills related to understanding technologies, designing, and implementing tech solutions, and be ready to think rather than repeatedly doing mindless tasks.
Tech disruptions in accounting and auditing
“Fintech is reshaping the world we live in” is probably one of the most commonly repeated mantras in business today. New, exciting, tech-backed ideas are popping up like mushrooms. They are to make our lives more time- and money-effective. And not to forget, they provide end-user-pleasing experiences. So, money is flowing to fintech. But as much as we tend to attribute this boom to more money available for investment and to millennials’ new lifestyle and preferences, the reality is that it is the technology that makes all these exciting ideas possible.
Fintech solutions are massively implemented in all financial services. As end users, by now we are rather familiar with digital wallets, credit cards with challenger banks, or applications that help us save and invest. But the real disruptions usually occur in the B2B space. Let us have a closer look at an example of accounting and auditing. Blockchain, smart contracts, and IoT start improving the reliability and integrity of financial information. Blockchain-based accounting reduces the work of external auditors because data is already pre-verified and immutable. The IoT sensors automatically update ledger balances with the real-time data. Smart contracts additionally assure that all necessary conditions are met before balances are updated, for example before sales revenue is recognized. AI has already reached high success rates in identifying patterns, discrepancies, and irregularities in financial records. In auditing, AI can easily replace humans in detecting errors and fraud, while auditors can focus on supervising models and investigating red flags. Given that AI applications can already predict construction accidents before they happen (MIT Technology Review, June 2019), neural networks could also predict fraud before it is committed. In the really near future, these technologies can enable fully automated audits.
Will technology steal all our jobs? Finance and accounting remain amongst the most popular majors in grad schools worldwide. At Hult, there are programs dedicated fully to study finance, most likely because of its high employability. Yet, the outlook seems to be in opposition:
“The year is 2030. You’re in a business school lecture hall, where just a handful of students are attending a finance class. The dismal turnout has nothing to do with professorial style, school ranking, or subject matter. Students simply aren’t enrolled, because there are no jobs out there for finance majors … They have been filled by ‘artificial intelligence agents.’” (Kendall & Alam, 2017)
As reported by Oxford academics, 47% percent of all jobs in the US are at “high risk” of being automated within the next 20 years; over a half of lost jobs will be in finance. Is London, Shanghai, or Dubai any different?
Not really! Therefore, our students should be cautious and “mind the gap” between what they learn today and what is needed to get a job and succeed tomorrow. There is responsibility on the supply (faculty) side, but let’s not forget that it’s also the demand that drives product innovation. Nobody knows really, what skills people will need to succeed in the job market in 2050, or even ten years from now. The only sure thing is that the job market will be completely different. Some jobs will disappear, some jobs will be transformed, and some jobs will appear.
The question is: will people have the necessary skills to do these new jobs? As Yuval Harari points out, back in the days when machines replaced humans, say in agriculture, a lot of low-skilled jobs were lost on the farms—but also a lot of low-skilled jobs were created in the tractor factories. Accordingly, a 2-3-month period was usually enough to retrain a farmer into a machine factory worker. Today, when you look into the future, there will no longer be a need for taxi or truck drivers, as we will have self-driving cars. We will no longer need chefs, as companies like Zume Pizza—a Silicon Valley start-up valued at $4 billion—will use robots to make pizza. Instead, there will be jobs in creative industries (art, science, etc.). The difference is that these jobs require high-skills. So, it will not be that easy to take a 40-year-old cook and transform her into a software engineer that creates VR games. Or to take a bookkeeper and transform her into an audit software developer. AI will ever more discriminate between people with high IQ, who will embrace the coming changes, and the ones with weak IQ, who will become somewhat “redundant”. This, on a side note, will also be one of the most difficult political challenges ahead.
Building the skills
What are the desired skills and competencies of future professionals in accounting, auditing, and broad finance? It is certain is that there will be ever more use of technology. Learning technologies is key because they are revolutionizing the way practitioners perform their responsibilities in finance, accounting, and auditing. Many accounting functions (bookkeeping, budgeting, reconciliation, etc.) will become redundant. External financial audit will not be eliminated, but technological evolution will transform the purpose and the role of an auditor. Instead, both accountants and auditors will need at least a basic understanding of how technologies work because they will work closely with engineers to help design software functionality and ongoingly provide inputs to software solutions.
This is exactly how I built the fintech syllabus when launching a fintech course for MBA and masters students at Hult—to give students the understanding of technologies enough to take advantage of financial products or to come up with new solutions and work with engineers on creating them. Soon, all jobs will be more thinking- rather than doing-oriented. In the US, they sometimes call it skills elevation, when instead of mechanically performing certain tasks, one dedicates more time to thinking about the solutions, as the technology can take care of the former. Eventually, it is always those who understand the nature of change and evolution of technology that best adopt to new situations and succeed.
Will finance be your field? Check out Hult’s Masters in Finance to get your career started.