The future of the professions – applying a COVID-19 lens

The title of this article was the title of a webinar recently hosted by CAANZ, in which father and son Richard and Daniel Susskind shared some insights from their research on the future of the professions and more recently, the impact that COVID-19 is having. Concurrently, CAANZ released a paper called The 21st Century Profession, which draws on some research it initiated. Both the webinar and paper are worth a look and you can find a link to them at the bottom of this article.

Before you look at them, I’d also encourage you to read the short review I wrote of the book written by Richard and Daniel Susskind. In that review I try to capture the essence of their message, which I see as aimed at those who are “comfortable” in their role as a professional.

The book was published in 2015 but its content is as relevant as ever. Having said that, the authors are in the process of updating the content, including consideration of the impact of COVID-19. Richard and Daniel Susskind are credible authors with significant research and experience to draw on and I believe their views are most definitely worthy of respect.

I’m sure the first sentence in the introduction of the book is designed to get the reader’s attention and that it does. “This book is about the professions and the systems and people that will replace them.”

Wow!

In their book the Susskinds identify eight broad trends they see as impacting the professions and in the webinar they come back to one of these and consider how COVID-19 is impacting it. That trend is the impact of technology in two ways:

  1. Automation – automating what we do now – to get it done faster, more accurately, more consistently
  2. Transformation / innovation – using technology to do stuff we might have previously not considered possible

Daniel gives multiple examples of the latter including:

  • Medical diagnoses
  • Driving cars
  • Drafting legal documents
  • Composing music
  • Designing buildings
  • Drafting news reports

He and Richard note that in the pandemic they are observing an increase in automation but a decrease in innovation. However, they believe as we get back to some form of “normality” the transformation / innovation will take off.

The question they believe needs to be answered is “how in the future will we solve the problems to which the professions are our current best answer?” The paper produced by CAANZ picks up on this theme too with the three last bolded headings on the summary page being:

“For most human attributes, there is no machine substitute. Yet.”

“Moving forward, society will need professions more than ever”

“But the professions needed today may not be those required tomorrow”

This seems to me to be a rallying cry for us to be conscious of the need to change over time.

The Susskinds stress that there is no big bang going to happen that will see immediate large-scale change but that it will be incremental over a period of many years. The danger for the professions is perhaps that we get complacent and don’t adapt. And if we don’t adapt it seems to me there is plenty of evidence to suggest we will become irrelevant. I think it might have been Barry Melancon, the CEO of the AICPA in the USA who said “if you don’t like change you are going to like irrelevance even less”.

Use the two links below to read my review of the Susskinds’ book then read the CAANZ paper and watch the webinar. As a CAANZ member I know that critical thinking about, and debating the future of, our profession can only be a good thing. Regardless of whether your designation is CA, CPA or IPA, I encourage you to contribute to critical thinking and debate about the future of the accounting profession. Good on CAANZ for leading the way.

Link to my review of Richard and Daniel Susskind’s book “the Future of the Professions” here: https://www.planetconsulting.com.au/book-reviews/book-review-the-future-of-the-professions-how-technology-will-transform-the-work-of-human-experts/

Link to CAANZ webinar and paper: https://www.charteredaccountantsanz.com/news-and-analysis/insights/research-and-insights/the-21st-century-profession

by Rob Pillans
Planet Consulting Pty Ltd
P: +61 7 3102 5477
E: rob@planetconsulting.com.au
W: www.planetconsulting.com.au
PO Box 956 Cleveland QLD 4163 Australia

Rob Pillans

Founder and Principal Consultant at Planet Consulting
Rob is a coach, mentor and consultant for accounting firm owners and managers across Australia. Few people, if any, can match the breadth and depth of his experience in the management of firms. He’s been the CEO of two accounting firms, the GM of one and the Business Manager for two more. He also spent 10 years delivering client services, including as a Business Services Manager.
Rob Pillans

Financial Services Technology

About Author

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Rob Pillans

Rob is a coach, mentor and consultant for accounting firm owners and managers across Australia. Few people, if any, can match the breadth and depth of his experience in the management of firms. He’s been the CEO of two accounting firms, the GM of one and the Business Manager for two more. He also spent 10 years delivering client services, including as a Business Services Manager.