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The Pace of Change vs. The Pace of Acceptance

by Tom G. Donaghy, CPA | Nov 08, 2017
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When I recently decided to write an article about technology and the pace of change, I wasn’t aware of the extent of the subject matter’s popularity. Just in the last couple of weeks, a plethora of articles sprang out from every news source imaginable.  Obviously, I am not alone in my interest and concern for this topic.

I have to confess that technology is not my forte.  As evidence of this, while raising my two sons, we were always the last family on the block to get the newest TV or the latest VCR or DVD player. In fact, I think I was the last person in my peer/social group to give up their razor flip phone. Currently, my interest in technology has changed dramatically, especially since my professional livelihood appears now to be at stake.

In October 2016, Barry Melancon, President and CEO of the AICPA, reawakened my awareness about the speed and impact technological changes will have on our profession. The very first thing he said in his address to the members of AICPA Council was, “You will not recognize the profession five to ten years from now.”

He also brought up words like big data, cybersecurity, blockchain, bitcoin, crowd funding, and more, which he thankfully went on to describe in detail. He really grabbed my attention when he said that robotics is predicted to automate or eliminate up to 40% of basic accounting-type jobs by the year 2020. To be honest, I was a little skeptical at this point; I thought his change timeline was a little too aggressive. Nothing ever changes that quickly. I can handle that change is coming, but the speed with which it will be introduced into our society will depend upon our ability to accept it. Right?

Maybe or maybe not. I remember back in 2002 when my son Ryan was a sophomore in college and, on the first day in his Finance 101 class, his professor announced, “If you’re in this class because you want to someday become a stock broker, you can leave now, cancel the course, and sign up for something else. Ten years from now computers (robots) will replace stock brokers.”

My son previously had visions of going into his father’s business, but his dreams were dashed by a college professor. He couldn’t wait to get back to his dorm room to call me with the news. As you can imagine, I was not as excited to receive such news as he was to share it. I was a tad bit angry with that professor and making a call to give him a piece of my mind was not out of the question. However, then I thought about it for a while and wondered—what if he is right?

Fast Forward Six Years

Just six years from the date of that finance professor’s prediction, the first Robo-Advisor was developed. The initial attempt was fraught with glitches and limited in scope. Now, nine years later, there are over 100 Robo-Advisors available for your average investor. Was the professor correct in his prediction? Not exactly, his timeline, at least, was a bit off. Now, 15 years after the professor’s original prediction, is the general public ready to accept the services of a computer vs. a human? Some are and, yes, their numbers are increasing as the service product becomes more sophisticated.

The sophistication of the “robo” services provided in my profession have progressed in approximately the same speed and fashion as automated tax services, for example TurboTax®, which have also taken some business away from the CPA.

Will robots ever completely replace the services of the CPA, attorney, or financial advisor? I am certainly not a futurist, but I believe there will always be a need for advice, interpretation, and human interaction.

The big question remains, how long will it be before these robo products become more sophisticated? How will they change the way we do business five years from now and ten years from now?  I’m certain that most of us are already researching the answer to these questions.

At the WSCPA, we are actively involved in a strategic planning process, working on understanding what our member needs are right now and what they will be going forward. We are very aware of the rapid changes occurring in our profession and we want to get ahead of the curve and help you, our members, navigate through the arrival of these new challenges with timely products and services for a successful future.

The WSCPA Information Technology Conference is coming up on December 11th and 12th of this year in Bellevue. I know I will be there, looking for answers. What about you?

Tom-Donaghy-HeadshotThomas G. Donaghy is Vice President – Investment Officer & Financial Advisor in the Bellingham office of Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC, Member SIPC. You can contact him at tg.donaghy1@gmail.com.

This article appeared in the fall 2017 issue of the WashingtonCPA Magazine. Read more here.

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