Revolutionary technology like blockchain will drastically alter the role of accountants, meaning they will become “the digital detectives of tomorrow”, according to industry speaker and author Ian Khan.

“This is the next frontier,” he said, speaking at Accountex last week, in London. “Technology is the next frontier. If you don’t know about technology, don’t know what it does, then how will you be able to succeed in this era that’s powered by technology?”

“There’s still space in this era for accountants. But accountants have to be more tech-savvy,” he added.

Emerging technologies was a major theme at this year’s Accountex. Speakers such as FreeAgent CEO Ed Molyneux warned that many of the traditional roles of accountants were starting to become automated and that the accountant’s role could become increasingly advisory.

“Traditional sources of information can be inaccurate. Today we work with Excel sheets, printed documents and receipts. [Accountants] handle so much paperwork, there’s got to be some inaccuracies. Excel sheets are great, but I don’t think they are the best or the most secure medium of exchanging information, Excel sheets are not secure at all,” he added.

Khan added that automated technology innovations like blockchain and artificial intelligence will render manual elements of accountancy, like booking invoices or processing payments, obsolete. His comments echo research carried out by Atherton Research, which estimates that accounting tasks will be fully automated by 2020.

“I really believe that blockchain will eliminate the need for accounting firms to do an annual audit. In plain words, the audit side of things is slipping away from accounting firms because of blockchain. Now we’re not there yet, but in the next 4-7 years this pace might change,” Khan said.

A 2017 blockchain report states that “while the audit process may become more continuous, auditors will still have to apply professional judgment when analysing accounting estimates and other judgments made by management in the preparation of financial statements.”

Khan was adamant that new technology like blockchain presents an opportunity to grow and should not be considered a threat.

“Accounting firm professionals need to step in to technology. If you really want to succeed as a firm or a professional, you need to start learning,” he said. “I would say in the next five to 10 years the role of accountants will change from being financial accountants to technology accountants. Rather than the pen and the spreadsheet, you will be using blockchain and smart contracts.”

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