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Caleb Newquist Editor-at-Large, Gusto 
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Robots vs. Accountants

My colleague Will Lopez wrote a column in Accounting Today, declaring an end to the “Will automation replace accountants?” debate: The accountants won. Congratulations, everyone.

Where software is limited to evaluating concrete inputs, accountants also leverage their financial acumen, understanding of clients’ business goals and observations of communication subtleties like the inflection in a client’s voice to make decisions. This allows them to serve as advisors to their clients, whether by adjusting business models in real time, building balanced and inclusive teams, or managing employee wellbeing.


Will points to
 a “false debate” started by tech companies predicting the demise of accountants. The aggressiveness of this prediction ranges from “accountants should focus on different things” to “you’re going to be obsolete in five years.” Will argues that accountants really aren’t the data-entry squares they’re made out to be. Instead, they’re the best resource small businesses have to prosper and be more resilient. 

The notion that that kind of expertise and advice can just be engineered away is pretty foolish. Technology has gotten really good, but it’s not so great at nuance OR understanding or having human relationships. Accountants can and should develop awareness around the skills that automation won’t touch. Basically, anything subtle, complex, and non-quantitative. I’m not saying you should go back and get a degree in philosophy or anthropology, but I could think of far worse ideas.

One thing that I mention from time to time is just how good humans are at coming up with new things to do and then deciding those things are jobs. When I began my career as a CPA, bloggers were hardly a thing, certainly not a paid thing. Then I left my CPA career about six years later… to become a blogger. Likewise, when I became a blogger, very few companies had social media managers. Now you can’t go outside without coming within six feet of someone writing an Instagram post for work. At least you shouldn’t come within six feet.

Accountants are in the midst of becoming something new. What exactly that looks like is still a big unknown, but it’s also possible that accountants will become increasingly nuanced and specialized—and that means they will be tough to define. To an extent, that’s already happening, and with the potential to advise on things like, say, benefits, it opens up even more possibilities. And yes, technology will play its role, but it won’t be setting the course for the firm or how it serves clients. Only accountants—human accountants!—can do that. 

Unsolicited life advice: Make your own salads

After reading this Wall Street Journal article that has countless people reminiscing over the salad bars of their youth, I couldn’t help but feel a little nostalgic. Yes, I too ate at many a salad bar when I was in short pants, and I loved them for the same reason these people did: The opportunity to eat an unlimited amount of food with the pretense that you were eating healthy. It was the best. “Oh, yes, that is a soup bowl filled with croutons. They kept tumbling off my giant pile of salad, so I figured this was the best way to get them back to the table.”

The pandemic, as we all know, has been the death knell of buffets and salad bars, and let’s be honest: It’s for the best. When an untold number of people shuffle through acres of food, creating unholy alliances of flavors and textures, and then go back for more with the same plate, you can’t help but wonder where things went wrong. Besides, do we really need to encourage our problems with portion control?

So here’s an idea for you salad junkies: Make your own salad bar at home. The produce section at the grocery store has plenty of options. You can still get your Bacos or whatever lab-created toppings you like. You can have 40 different salad dressings, too, since the salad dressing aisle at the grocery store is the third-most overwhelming behind cereal and salsa.

“But Caleb,” you might be saying, “What about all the non-lettuce salads on the salad bar? Am I supposed to make those myself, too?” No, I suppose you could just do the bare minimum and get a pound of whatever mass-produced over-mayo-ed swill you want from the deli section. Or you could try making some of your favorite salads yourself. For example, this past summer, I made this very fast, very easy macaroni salad several times, and my mother-in-law won’t stop raving about it. So if your MIL doesn’t think too much of your skills in just about anything, then make the macaroni salad. Take all the credit for yourself, I don’t care. Just be sure to use fresh herbs instead of dried, ok? And sure, you can serve it with a huge bowl of croutons if you want.

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Updated: January 21, 2021

Caleb Newquist
Caleb Newquist Caleb is Editor-at-Large at Gusto. In 2009, he became the founding editor of Going Concern, the one-of-a-kind voice on the accounting profession, serving in the role for 9 years. Prior to Going Concern, Caleb worked as a CPA for nearly 6 years in New York and Denver. He lives in Denver with his wife, two daughters, and two cats.

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