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CPA 2027: CPAs Reset Skills

The skills that CPAs have relied on to advance their careers for generations are becoming outdated as technological and strategic skills rise in importance, pushing accountants to reset and upskill. By Derrick Lilly | Digital Exclusive - 2021

When we come full circle, the Illinois CPA Society’s 2027 predictions are driven by a clear theme: technology. Technology, particularly AI, is rapidly reshaping the CPA’s world—and it’s just peeling out from the starting line.

In its “Sizing the Prize” report, PwC identified four forms of AI in use today set to shape the future:

  • Automated intelligence: AI systems that automate existing routine or non-routine manual and cognitive tasks.
  • Assisted intelligence: AI systems that don’t learn from their human interactions but still assist humans in making decisions, taking actions, and performing tasks faster and better.
  • Augmented intelligence: Adaptive AI systems that augment human decision making and continuously learn from their interactions with humans and the environment.
  • Autonomous intelligence: AI systems that adapt to different situations and can act autonomously without human assistance or intervention.

Prior to COVID-19, PwC’s analysis forecasted global GDP to be 14 percent higher in 2030 because of the accelerating development and take-up of AI—the equivalent of $15.7 trillion in growth. Meaning, AI’s economic opportunity is staggering, and PwC says it will be driven by three primary factors: productivity gains from businesses automating processes (including use of robots and autonomous vehicles); productivity gains from businesses augmenting their existing labor force with AI technologies (assisted and augmented intelligence); and increased consumer demand resulting from the availability of personalized and/or higher-quality AI-enhanced products and services.

PwC ultimately concludes that “AI is set to be the key source of transformation, disruption, and competitive advantage.” What this means for CPAs is that they must prepare for a business world increasingly permeated by AI that both assists and replaces them—and they need to know how to guide companies and clients on how to implement these systems. Which brings us to the Society’s next prediction: CPAs ultimately need to reset their skill sets.

CPAs cannot sit idle while technology and automation revolutionizes business models, tools, tasks, and the delivery of services. The only way to stay in the race is to reset, refocus, and restart. With this in mind, the Society believes digital and soft skills will be the top requirements of CPAs in the future—think strategic thinking, problem solving, analyzing and interpreting data, communicating high level insights, technology aptitude and agility, creativity and curiosity, innovative thinking, and business acumen.

This outlook isn’t unfounded. The World Economic Forum highlights a multi-year McKinsey Global Institute study into how human skills are likely to be affected by AI and automation, which emphasizes the top three skill sets workers will need to develop by 2030 if they do not want to be “left behind.” Those skill sets include higher cognitive skills, social and emotional skills, and technological skills.

Using U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, McKinsey built a model to predict how hours worked annually would change by 2030. Their model forecasts increasing demands for higher cognitive skills, social and emotional skills, and technological skills. The latter will see the biggest increase of all, with a 60 percent rise from the 31 billion hours worked in 2016. On the other hand, demand for physical, manual, and basic cognitive skills would see dramatic declines.

Homing in on the accounting profession, Sage spoke with 1,000 American accountants for its “Practice of Now” report to find out which skills they believe will be the most impactful for them to have in the next five to 10 years. The leading results? Technology skills, strategic thinking, communication skills, customer service skills, deep knowledge of growing a business, and team/interpersonal skills.

The clear consensus is that many of the hard skills CPAs are known and trusted for are at best simply expected and at worst likely to be automated soon. Instead, it’s the technological and soft skills that offer value and a competitive advantage. But beware: The World Economic Forum reports the half-life of a skill has dropped from 30 years to an average of just six years, making continuous upskilling crucial for CPAs trying to remain in the race for relevance.

This is part six of a seven-part series taken from “CPA Profession 2027: Racing for Relevance,” a 2020 Insight Special Feature from the Illinois CPA Society. Read parts one, two, three, four, and five.

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