That the accounting industry is facing a crisis of talent has been well-documented, as have the perils of that crisis: the declining talent pool has left existing accountants juggling more responsibilities and battling burnout. Meanwhile, when it comes to new entrants to the field, accounting has a reputation of being something of a tech laggard.
This is a perception that needs to evolve in order for accounting to attract young people, said Jennifer Toomey, VP of product marketing for Oracle.
“I think what companies can do more of is promote the role of technology and innovation within accounting,” Toomey, a 22-year veteran of Oracle, said in an interview on how leaders can attract accounting applicants.
Tech and the talent gap
More and more finance leaders have turned their eye to new technologies as a way to help them alleviate the talent crisis — something that is becoming a must for CFOs as such shortages, as well as inflation, are leading to a slump in finance team efficiency, CFO Dive previously reported.
CFOs and key financial leaders are aware of this need to evolve, Toomey said, with leaders acknowledging that they "can't get an applicant to talk to us if I'm still running on green screens, and old technology,” she said of talks with such executives.
The buzz surrounding generative AI could help finance leaders to lure those younger, potentially more tech-savvy applicants, who are excited about experimenting with ChatGPT or similar technologies, Toomey said. The next generation of accountants are “comfortable with technology — they expect technology to do more for them,” she said.
Putting the technology in place is just the first step here, however — training is also an essential piece when it comes to both putting these tools to use and bringing newcomers to the accounting space. Oracle itself has partnered with the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants to address the technology skills gap within the space, announcing a new certification aimed at doing so last year.
“Certainly, younger talent, they want to have the learning and the collaboration,” Toomey said. “They're looking for different experiences in their jobs. It's not just the traditional view of work anymore, so companies need to evolve.”
AI’s role in accounting’s next phase
AI and automation have slowly begun to seep more broadly into the accounting space, a transformation which comes as the finance function is becoming a more strategic partner inside of the inner workings of business.
Increasingly, newer systems are “taking over some of the drudge work of accounting,” Toomey said: Finance departments can tap AI and machine learning capabilities to run reports that accountants historically would have needed to run manually, meaning finance professionals can “spend more time investigating or taking action,” she said.
Oracle, for example, is working toward the idea of the “continuous close,” where “the accountants aren't spending, a month at the end of the year to close the books, spending half the quarter closing the books — that just takes care of itself in the background,” Toomey said. Rather, accountants would be on hand to lend their expertise, monitor the exceptions and ultimately make the decisions, she said.
Oracle is working with its own finance department on the one-day close, she said, and is ultimately aiming toward a future where a continuous close is a reality. These traditionally time-consuming, complicated processes are “part of the reason why accounting gets a difficult reputation, because of these time periods when they have to close the books and it can be very involved,” Toomey said.
As AI and automation become more commonplace in the industry, however, having support at the executive level to implement them effectively is critical — CFOs and other leaders need to be on board with the new technologies and what they will do. Leaders must work to achieve a balance between moving too fast and moving too slow when it comes to adopting these tools, therefore.
“I think being perhaps too cautious, too slow to adopt, could cause companies to fall behind,” Toomey said. “But again, there's the balance: They have to know what is right for their organization and do all the change management that comes with it.”
For instance, AI has already sparked fears of job replacement within the accounting space. It’s up to finance leaders to reassure their existing and oncoming financial talent that such technologies will augment, but not replace, human accountants, Toomey said.
“The executives need to have the message, ‘No, this technology is not going to replace your jobs. It's going to augment it, and make it more attractive, make it easier for you to do more interesting types of work,’” she said.