For the past several years, everyone has been talking about “robo-accountants.” Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and automation are taking on an increasing amount of work in accounting firms. However, it’s clear that clients still value things that technology can’t provide, such as empathy, nuance, and a human touch. Accountants with these skills can be augmented by technology to do more with less. But what about the other people in your firm?
I’ve noticed that many people avoid discussing what will happen to the administrative roles as accounting firms see an uptick in automation. Rather than avoid the conversation, let’s talk about it and start creating strategies to help these valued members of our teams elevate their roles in our firms.
Traditional admin roles
Traditional administrative support roles have been becoming scarcer for years—especially since the 2008 recession. According to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics by The New Republic, although the economy added more than 10 million jobs once we began recovering from the recession, women (who fill about three-quarters of all administrative support positions) lost a total of 1.6 million admin support jobs.
While automation can’t fully replace human workers, over time, automation will be able to perform more and more of the tasks that make up an administrative professional’s job. Many of the tasks that used to be handled by the admin team have already been partially or fully automated, such as:
Processing and assembling tax returns and financial statements
Checking on e-file acceptance status
Sending quarterly estimate reminders
Preparing engagement letters and other client correspondence
Mailing invoices and tax organizers
Scheduling appointments for partners and other professionals
Maintaining project tracking spreadsheets
Organizing and maintaining client files
Preparing reports and sending them to partners and managers
Admins who have been able to keep their jobs are often asked to do more, and while that may serve the firm in the short term, it doesn’t elevate the role or deploy their skills in a way that leverages their thinking capabilities.
The new admin role
Automating routine tasks doesn’t have to make the admin role redundant. Instead of letting automation happen to them, train them to take on more of a paraprofessional position.
For example, we recently worked with a firm to create a sample job description for the new admin role. Some of the essential skills, duties and responsibilities we identified during the process include:
Effectively interfacing with clients, personnel and service providers
Spearheading and updating workflow processes, including identifying processes that can be automated
Collaborating with engagement team members to create and automate audited financial statements, documents, analyses and audit reports
In the firms of yesterday, admin professionals had little, if any, client contact. But as firms’ hierarchical structure changes from a pyramid to a diamond, admins and other employees at all levels need to be comfortable with client interaction. This adds value for the firm and its clients.
If you have valuable admin team members in your firm, don’t avoid progress to prevent making their roles obsolete. Instead, consider their skill sets and identify gaps in your firm that could use those skills.
The resolution will vary from firm to firm, but we’re responsible for developing a strategic plan to elevate these roles and deploy people’s skills in ways that leverage their thinking and feeling capabilities. That’s something technology can’t automate.
So what does your admin team of the future look like? Take the time to identify their skill sets in a way that gives your admin team more responsibility and brings more value to your team, and you’ll realize we’ll all have more opportunities to do some pretty incredible things.
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As Shareholder and Consultant for Boomer Consulting, Inc., Arianna Campbell helps accounting firms challenge the status quo by leading process improvement initiatives that result in increased profitability and client satisfaction. She also facilitates the development and cultivation of future firm leaders in The P3 Leadership Academy™ Academy. Internally, she blends concepts from Lean Six Sigma and leadership development to drive innovation and continuous improvement within the company. Arianna also enjoys the opportunity to share knowledge through regular contributions to the Boomer Bulletin and other industry-wide publications, as well as public speaking at industry conferences.