How to Prevent a Robot from Taking Your Accounting Job

Gusto Editors

Are you wondering how you can compete with the technology revolution in the accounting industry? 

Gusto is here to help you navigate change confidently. We partnered with CPA Academy to break down the benefits of automation, the role of AI in accounting, and the limitations of AI.

The webinar “How to Survive (Career-Wise) as the Robots Take Over” featured accounting experts Greg Kyte and Caleb Newquist. The duo delivered the best strategies you can take to come out of the tech revolution on solid ground. 

Greg Kyte brings a fresh, funny take to accounting education. A comedian and CPE, he made Accounting Today’s list of the Top 100 Most Influential People in the industry. Caleb Newquist is the Editor-at-Large at Gusto and the founding editor of Going Concern, a leading accounting news publication featuring breaking news, developing stories, and industry insights in the field. Caleb combines his editorial eye, content expertise, and accounting background to create his unique brand. 

How job specialization will work in your favor

The automation revolution can feel daunting, but there’s never been a time when industries weren’t vulnerable to sweeping changes. To navigate new waters gracefully, you’ll need to be both flexible and focused. Change isn’t comfortable, but it is inevitable!

One change you might want to adopt is to go from being a generalist to a specialist by picking a niche. Selecting a niche helps personalize your firm, makes your target client feel special, and allows you to go deeply into an industry in ways that most other firms cannot. It allows you to learn the ins and outs of an industry, including its unique challenges and goals. You can create more personal, lasting relationships with clients, which is something machines can’t do. You can also leverage automation to your advantage. By working in tandem with machines instead of trying to compete with them, you’re swimming with the current instead of against it.

“If you do niche down hard on an industry, part of what you’re doing is you’re learning that industry, you’re learning the problems in that industry, and you’re figuring out what current automation [and] current computer stuff out in the world is going to best solve the problems of that industry that you’ve chosen. … What you’re doing in that case is you’re making the robot your sidekick. You’re going, ‘I am the best CPA for tattoo artists and tattoo parlors, and I’ve got all these robots who are going to come along and are going to help make my customer’s lives, my client’s lives better.’”

– Greg Kyte

Having a niche also narrows down your market segments, which can make your marketing strategy more effective. You don’t necessarily have to serve clients within your niche exclusively. You can still help a range of clients, but put your efforts into developing your relationship with a specific industry.

So what does picking a niche mean? It’s selecting one industry to focus on. Greg discussed how most firms fail to recognize just how singular and specific having a niche is:

“Every single firm on the entire planet says ‘We specialize in the following industry,’ and then they list like 50 industries, which is all the industries. That’s not a niche. That means that you have a customer [from that industry.] You’re not specializing, those are just people you’ve served before. Having a niche … should mean that you’re focused on one industry.”

– Greg Kyte

The exciting thing about picking a niche is that you’re more in control of the type of work you do, how you do it, and importantly, who you do it for. You can select it based on personal preference, profitability, or a combination of both.

Business people sitting on their workplaces and typing on laptop computers at the office.

Think about what you know and what you want to know. Whatever niche you pick, you’ll be getting to know it very intimately. You’ll either want to have a good understanding of it right away or be willing to go deep into it over time. Think about what you’re good at. How can you use that to your advantage?

You can also simply look at which industries make the most sense based on your location. If you’re located in Los Angeles, there are probably a lot of creative professionals in the area. If you’re in San Francisco, you might consider working with a subset of tech professionals, such as female tech entrepreneurs. Consider how well you’ll be able to serve these people and how profitable they are likely to be.

Uplevel your tech skills 

Another approach you can use is to specialize in a specific technology. Machines need a human to set them up, program them, and keep them running efficiently. If you know your client’s needs well, you can let them know that you’re the best person to get them set up with a program. 

“You can become a specialist in a particular technology … [This is what I] was doing [at a previous job.] I was part of the technology department. I was specifically on their QuickBooks team. … I was all about QuickBooks. If you wanted to implement QuickBooks at your company, you would hire me. I would come in and … I would train the robot. … I would come in, and I’d say, ‘Okay, QuickBooks, you’re going to do all this stuff, but here’s how it all works.’ And then [I would set] up the accounts.”

– Greg Kyte

Whether it’s Quickbooks, Intuit, or Netsuite, specializing in a workflow automation system can uplevel your marketability and protect your job. The key is to pick just one and get really good at it. So consider which niche, if any, you’re serving. What would work best for them? You can also use this approach instead of picking a niche and focus on the tech side of things. By doing this, you’re partnering with technology instead of fighting against it.

“Two ways … to survive the robot takeover [are to either] join the robots in their takeover … or … get good at the stuff that robots suck at.”

– Greg Kyte

If you can’t or don’t want to partner with machines, your next option is to develop your most irreplaceable human traits.

What are the limitations of AI?

Humans outshine machines in all the ways that you’d expect, namely in terms of connection. The importance of human connection and empathy can’t be underestimated. People want to do business with people. 

Most people have a deep awareness of how they’re truly just talking to a machine when they’re interacting with a bot. That awareness creates a barrier to connection. Even the most sophisticated machines with the most advanced human-like characteristics are unlikely to break through this barrier.

Man having a meeting with male advisor in an office.

When you have a personal relationship with a client, you’ll often hear the stories they tell you about their life, whether personal or professional. While it’s not advisable to become a therapist for your clients, it’s a good idea to take on a consulting role. As you listen to your client’s unique challenges and goals, you connect to them through empathy, which creates accountability and responsibility. A machine might forecast trends and recall useful data, but they have no incentive to put things in the proper context and guide clients to make life-changing decisions. 

In other words, effective accounting isn’t just about numbers; it’s about having empathy and building relationships. Both of these can never be replaced. 

Additionally, there are high-level functions that robots can’t do as well as people. Identifying goals is a complex task that’s unique to people and circumstances. To identify goals, an accountant takes context into account, such as a client’s personal needs or wants. 

“Robots are horrible at goal identification. … Robots are amazing at efficiency, they’re not awesome at effectiveness. … A lot of that is goal identification. A robot’s not going to know what you really want to solve, where you’re really trying to go. Humans are much better than that. Goal identification leads right into problem clarification. This [means you think about what you] want to have in the future. And then you go, ‘Okay, so why aren’t we getting there now?’”

– Greg Kyte

Whether a client is considering scaling their business, starting a second one, or determining which partnerships will work best for the coming year, having a human to consult with just works best. Along the same lines, robots can’t solve complex problems the way people can. Good judgment and leadership require critical thinking and cost-benefit analysis that goes beyond numbers.

“The important thing to remember is that the robots are good at the math. … [When it comes to] the things that are quantitative in nature, robots are going to beat us every single day. They’re going to beat us silly, … but [not when it comes to] things like identifying goals [such as] things that people want to do or goals that a person has for their business. A robot isn’t going to be able to do those things, even if it’s a purely quantifiable question. A robot can give you the answer, but it isn’t able to put it in the proper context.”

– Caleb Newquist

Knowing your strengths and capitalizing on them is key to surviving the changes in the industry. If you adopt one of two techniques, you’re on your way not just to surviving, but to thriving. 

Learn more about automation in accounting

The tech revolution hasn’t spared the accounting field, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to panic. Instead, it’s time to be proactive and to clarify exactly what you have to offer that machines don’t. Taking a multi-pronged approach is best. Use technology to your advantage if possible by learning accounting automation software. Select a niche, and provide irreplaceable consulting services to your desired clients. Know your value. You have complex problem-solving abilities, leadership skills, empathy, and relationship-building skills that robots can’t replace. It’s time to develop those skills even further.

Gusto’s mission is to create a world that empowers a better life. It’s our pleasure to empower you with the information, tools, and strategies you need to succeed. For more on accounting automation, check out our other two articles based on the same webinar: “Is Automation Taking Over the Accounting Profession?” and “FAQs About Accounting and Automation.”

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Gusto Editors Gusto Editors, contributing authors on Gusto, provide actionable tips and expert advice on HR and payroll for successful business management.
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