RPA has the potential to transform many areas of business, in particular, accounting functions. According to a McKinsey Global Institute report “Harnessing Automation for a Future that Works”, existing technology could automate approximately 50% of today’s accounting work, with another 15% with future technologies.
With the automation of many entry-level tasks, the skills required by new CPAs (Certified Public Accountants) will change. In addition to an understanding of financial concepts, users need a high level of general business acumen. Accountants will be expected to break down a manual process into steps, determine any business rules, and implement them in the software. They will also need to identify which tasks lend themselves to RPA, and, more importantly, which ones do not. Entry-level accountants in the future will need to possess higher critical thinking and analytical skills than accountants of years past.
Incorporating RPA in accounting education is consistent with calls to create a new accounting education model that is better aligned with accounting professionals’ evolving demands and roles. Indeed, CPAs need to develop a new perspective toward the professional workplace and take advantage of robots’ strengths. As such, accounting education should include competencies related to the role of RPA in the accounting profession.
Identifying RPA competencies is the first step to incorporating RPA into the accounting curriculum. The next step is to determine the best way to integrate the competencies into courses such as financial and managerial accounting, taxation, accounting information systems (AIS), and auditing. One approach is to join theory and practice together. More specifically, this means identifying ways RPA is being used (or will be used) in the profession and mapping those examples to courses. RPA is being used (or will be used) in the accounting profession for the following types of activities:
- Opening, reading, and sending emails and attachments.
- Logging into applications and entering or changing information.
- Moving, changing, or deleting files and folders.
- Running batches.
- Extracting and reformatting data into reports.
- Collecting and processing data from multiple data sources.
- Making calculations and executing tasks or jobs due to the results of these calculations.
- Filling in forms.
- Generating and distributing reports.
- Generating early warnings.
- Making auto-corrections.
- Making automatic journal entries.
- Auditing, blocking or correcting transaction duplications.
- Automated risk analysis and automated execution due to this risk analysis.
- Automated payment processing.
- Automatically executing transaction approvals.
Because textbooks do not currently include extensive coverage of RPA, accounting professors should take steps to incorporate RPA competencies into financial, managerial accounting, tax, auditing, and AIS courses using a software-specific approach. For example, the UiPath Academic Alliance program offers training and software for classroom use at no charge to faculty and students. The courses are designed for both technical and business students and range from a simple introduction video to a comprehensive semester-long course suitable for college credit. Large public accounting firms also provide resources that could be used to incorporate RPA in the accounting curriculum. For example, the EY Academic Resource Center has a free comprehensive RPA curriculum for faculty. The EY site includes slide decks to provide exposure to RPA concepts and applications, overview cases to foster an understanding of how RPA is used in business, and hands-on cases that use RPA software and data files to automate workflow processes.
Incorporating RPA into the accounting curriculum is necessary to prepare students for the profession they will be entering. Accordingly, accounting educators should take steps to incorporate RPA into their accounting programs.