# Accounting -Will it live on?

There is one thing my family is well known for.. It's maths.. My dad can do such complex equations in his head.. Does em faster than I can on the calculator.. Now my parents want me to become either an accountant, or an engineer..

Well I just turned 17, so My theories might be umm.. dunno how to put it.. Garbage?

Well anyway this is what I think.. I always hear everyone saying their becoming an accountant etc.. I know soooooooo many people that are becoming an accountant.. Well what I wonder is that, will accounting really survive? With computers becoming faster and more complex, I think it'll be a matter of time before computers replace accountants.. Also since there are so many people going in the accounting field will there not be more workers than work?

When I talk to people about this, they tell me that accounting is very hard and that most people that go in the field don't really graduate out as accountants..

I don't mind becoming an engineer, but I heard it's really hard (as I read the engineering thread).

Well anyway what do U guyz think? Is accounting gonna be as good of a source of bread in the house in the future as it is now? And will computers really take over?

jtbell
Mentor
With computers becoming faster and more complex, I think it'll be a matter of time before computers replace accountants..

Ever hear the expression, "Garbage in, garbage out?"

Suppose you have software that can do all the arithmetic in a flash, for a company's financial statement. Someone still has to ensure that the right numbers are going into the right inputs, which means understanding all the laws and accounting practices that deal with financial statements.

Ok I get what u mean

by the way never heard of that sayin..

I know that you're worried about competing with computers, but there's also the issue of outsourcing to worry about. As Jtbell said, you need a human being to check the math. But why pay a high salary to an American accountant when a guy in India can do the same job for half the pay? A lot of engineering jobs are being outsourced right now, and I wouldn't be surprised if the same thing happens to accounting. My dad, for example, had his engineering job outsourced somewhere, and he had a hard time finding another one (the same thing happened at his next job, btw). And he has two Master's degrees in electrical engineering! I'm not trying to scare you away, but it's something to think about as far as accounting and engineering go.

From what I can tell, in terms of job security, it looks like medicine and academics are good fields. I rarely see a doctor or a college professor get laid off.

\From what I can tell, in terms of job security, it looks like medicine and academics are good fields. I rarely see a doctor or a college professor get laid off.
I've actually a couple articles which talks about how surgeons are starting to become "outsourced" in a way. Apparently, a growing number of people are flying to places like India, where from what I understand, you can get heart surgery by U.S.-trained and licensed doctors for something like $10k. I've actually a couple articles which talks about how surgeons are starting to become "outsourced" in a way. Apparently, a growing number of people are flying to places like India, where from what I understand, you can get heart surgery by U.S.-trained and licensed doctors for something like$10k.

Really? I'd be interested to read more about this, if you have any extra information. I'm asking because I happen to have a brother who wants to go to med school (and he's motivated mostly by the job security). I think he might find this of interest...and I might be able to wrangle him into physics while I'm at it.

Really? I'd be interested to read more about this, if you have any extra information. I'm asking because I happen to have a brother who wants to go to med school (and he's motivated mostly by the job security). I think he might find this of interest...and I might be able to wrangle him into physics while I'm at it.
Sure. Here's an article that Time had on the subject. (However, if I had to guess, I'd say that the medical field as a whole isn't in danger of being outsourced. Only the really expensive surgeons have the risk: specialists and general practitioners can't really be cheaply outsourced.)

Is accounting one of those jobs where "the longer you stay, the more valuable you are to the company"? Because I know that programming/engineering AREN'T...

chroot
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Because I know that programming/engineering AREN'T...

This is contrary to my own experience and the experience of every engineer and programmer I know. I work in Silicon Valley, and know many...

- Warren

Let me put it this way, say you are a wiz at maths. If you do accounting you will probably excel and be fine, but if you do real maths you have a chance of taking you perceptive of the world to a whole nother level. Depends what you value more I guess, Intellectual Reward Vs Monetary Reward.

Sorry about the generalization. But does being in the accounting profession for a long time make you more valuable?

Having dealt with MANY accountants, there is no way that computers will ever replace humans when it comes to understanding tax rules. While I don't live there, I understand the USA has the most complicated tax law in the universe.

That said, accounting is about my least favorite activity in the world. Yes, you can make a lot of money shuffling other people's numbers around but, unless you have a calling for it, your life will drain away in an activity of no lasting social value. Think hard before choosing an entire life's work just based on monetary reward.

As much as many people here whine about the difficulties of finding jobs in science, there are many many many other people with well-paying jobs that they bitterly hate and can't quit because they are too heavily invested in the career.

It is not a black-and-white choice between eternal uncertainty and eternal drudgery but be cautious...

siddevt and zigzag7
Accounting is not math.

Ben Niehoff
Gold Member
Most accountants get paid peanuts, work long hours in basements, deal with horribly out-of-date software that doesn't actually work, and end up spending most of their time doing data entry and other dreadfully boring tasks. Unless you get a CPA, learn some tax law, and such; then you can do better.

Given the choice between accounting and engineering, I would definitely choose engineering. With strong math skills you could also consider being a physicist or a mathematician.

This is contrary to my own experience and the experience of every engineer and programmer I know. I work in Silicon Valley, and know many...

I just wanted to chime in "Amen." If you aren't more valuable to the company as time goes on, you just aren't doing your job properly.

So, why can't a really complicated expert system be made to process through all the tax laws? It seems to me it's only a matter of time before software automates all professions, and accounting seems to be one of the first.

turbo
Gold Member
So, why can't a really complicated expert system be made to process through all the tax laws? It seems to me it's only a matter of time before software automates all professions, and accounting seems to be one of the first.
Because the devil is in the details. Once you start going through the tax codes (if you are good at it), you will find ways to make your company more profitable simply by paying less taxes. Ever wonder why companies often lease equipment instead of buying it? There's always a reason. Ever think about who owns the company that owns the equipment that the company leases? How about paying wholly-owned offshore-based companies more than the going rate to provide services that you could have sourced domestically? There is a reason for the complexity of the tax codes. Tax laws are written by lobbyists who represent businesses.

If the tax codes were simplified dramatically, and we could keep lobbyists from having such free access (and influence) with our members of Congress, then I might be worried about whether accountants might be replaced. Not now.

siddevt
So, why can't a really complicated expert system be made to process through all the tax laws?
LOL - Go for it.

In the mean time, I think we are much closer to a solid theory of Quantum Gravity.

siddevt
Most accountants get paid peanuts, work long hours in basements, deal with horribly out-of-date software that doesn't actually work, and end up spending most of their time doing data entry and other dreadfully boring tasks. Unless you get a CPA, learn some tax law, and such; then you can do better.

Given the choice between accounting and engineering, I would definitely choose engineering. With strong math skills you could also consider being a physicist or a mathematician.
I'm actually working part-time in an accounting office at a local WalMart. It's really interesting how much of this lines up with the reality of the low-levels of accounting in an organization.

Most of what I do is what you would expect. Sort through stacks of ones and fives, all kinds of crumbly coupons and bottle return slip, and enter those into the books i.e. in WalMart's info system, which is ridiculously low-level and unhelpful on my end. The best tool I get is a linear search function to scan previous day's receipts (in a program that indexes all receipts by time and register). The room I work in is cold and windowless room, with cameras eyeing me from every direction. Anyway, after deposits I research the sales entered into the system versus what was physically sent to the office at the end of the day. Then I try to reconcile the two if I can find any cashier errors. Other than that I post a ton of random cash payments to various accounts and have head cashiers perform various randomly chosen audits on a given day.

There's not many ways you can automate that. Someone does have to check to ensure that the information systems provide accurate results. And the information systems actually help inform and speed along the process.

So there's at least two aspects of accounting that won't change. Auditing and information systems (as in building information systems and the audit process). There's also related business issues like internal controls, law (as in compliance with laws), and taxes.

Last edited:
my dads a CPA. he owns his own practice in three different states. he has made quite a living on his salary alone. although he says times are getting tough now that the economy is down so i dk right now how things are going and i dont plan to ask hahas./

Because the devil is in the details. Once you start going through the tax codes (if you are good at it), you will find ways to make your company more profitable simply by paying less taxes. Ever wonder why companies often lease equipment instead of buying it? There's always a reason. Ever think about who owns the company that owns the equipment that the company leases? How about paying wholly-owned offshore-based companies more than the going rate to provide services that you could have sourced domestically? There is a reason for the complexity of the tax codes. Tax laws are written by lobbyists who represent businesses.

If the tax codes were simplified dramatically, and we could keep lobbyists from having such free access (and influence) with our members of Congress, then I might be worried about whether accountants might be replaced. Not now.

Yeah, but all of this pretty much has to do with the concern of outsourcing, doesn't it? What about automation itself?

ACCOUNTING DOES NOT REQUIRE MUCH MATH. Ok I had to put my 2 cents in because i actually work in general accounting (also have my Bach of Sci in accounting) and one day plan to become a cpa. To get to take the exam, i needed about another 36 credit hours of school , so instead of choosing to be like my friends and go for the masters in accounting then sit for the cpa(thats the usual way) I chose to go for software engineering. I hope to make tax/accounting software some day and yes it is possible, there are tons of companies that do it.

To answer the thread, yes accounting will always live on because it is much more like Law than anything else. It requires extremely little math (finance gets into math and statistics) but, accounting is essentially extreme bookeeping. All you do is put the right numbers into the correct accounts according to GAAP standards(if in US), and based off of the numbers presented, managers make their decisions. The accounting rules can and do change(albeit slowly over time - gaap will eventually be replaced by ifrs), and yes a new congress can make dramatic changes in the tax code.

Here's what I've concluded about comparing the 2 careers:

accounting pays lower STARTING salary than software engineers, but have the potential to make more (work at one of the big 4 for 7-8 years and you'll make bank). however the work requires very very little creativity and ingenuity. It can become mundane preparing the same reports/statements month to month. But the job is very secure and you know you will at least be making decent middle class living at the least.

software engineering pays higher starting salary but typically doesn't have as much potential to make the big big money. It requires alot of critical thinking and you get much more creativity. The jobs are there, but tend to be shorter lived.

After being through both colleges I can definitely say engineering school is much harder than business school and pays less if you judge it based on how much you know versus how much your paid. But it makes itself up in other ways like creativity and is kinda enjoyable.

don't look at the salary too much. yes you can make +200,000 /yr in accounting (ex:work at one of the big 4 for 8 years and move onto your own thing or a medium sized company), but there are plenty of engineers making huge money too. most accountants don't get paid nearly that amount though and are typical middle class people.

Well what I wonder is that, will accounting really survive? With computers becoming faster and more complex, I think it'll be a matter of time before computers replace accountants..

Don't think so. At the end of the day, someone has to sign a piece of paper saying, I promise that these numbers are accurate, and if they aren't, very, very bad things will happen to me. If you have a complex computer program, how do you know that the numbers it is putting out aren't total garbage?

siddevt
...accounting will always live on because it is much more like Law than anything else.
Well said. Accountants will be replaced by computers at the same time as Lawyers are.

And, yes, accounting has almost nothing to do with Mathematics.

siddevt
I really think you're right...softwares can be made which are good enough to even see if there's an error in input...at least warn you if it thinks the input is wrong.

In today's age, the only real job of human beings is to develop; not merely following the things or procedures which are already develop...cause a computer can do that. Of course excluding very complex things like application of mechanics to various bridges...but someday (very late actually), computers will takeover that job too.

And yes, engineering is NOT easy...:D...you should really think before going in there.

Ever hear the expression, "Garbage in, garbage out?"

Haha, I love this, my lecturer used to say that all the time, that and a particular conan the barbarian quote are my mantra in engineering.

Anyway, I'm from Australia, and coincidentally just lodged my Tax return tonight.

No Accountant, just plug in your numbers into the little box in an automated program commissioned by the government and bob's your uncle.

Next years tax is planned to be even simpler, basically "look and check that these automatically obtained figures are approximately right, sign here, tax done".

Of course this doesn't directly mean that accountants are gunna be out of business, big business still will probably need them to keep their accounts in order and stuff.. but the initial moves have already been made here to simplify the whole system, and at least for individuals, remove the need for an accountant.

In my opinion it's only a matter of time, though the great thing about accounting is that it's all based on silly rules to keep themselves in a job, so i'm sure they'll make up a new set that will complicate things all over again, keeping themselves 'relevant'.

:P

Oh, and as far as the initial post goes. Become an engineer. It's a total love-hate relationship at times, but the frustration is worth it when you get it right.

Like lubuntu said, it's a choice between drudgery and good pay, or average pay and the possibility of actually achieving something meaningful in your lifetime. I know what I would choose... take the money, it buys EVERYTHING.

turbo
Gold Member
Well said. Accountants will be replaced by computers at the same time as Lawyers are.

And, yes, accounting has almost nothing to do with Mathematics.
When I was close to having put in my 10 years at the paper mill (vested in the retirement program), I was looking for something else to do, and my cousin urged me to learn how to write accounting application programs for dBase. I told him I didn't know anything about accounting, and he said "You don't have to." He was right. Just learn some basic double-entry bookkeeping, and start automating peoples' businesses. I once wrote an entire inventory-control program for a manufacturer of tree-harvesting equipment that included internal, wholesale, and retail pricing for his sales accounts, and flowed the costs and profits directly to his front office's accounting program. His accountant wanted to be able to flip the program from first-in-first-out to first-in-last-out in order to explore tax advantages relating to the inventory, so I included that, too. No fancy math, there. Accounting might be deadly-dull work, but it needs to be done to keep businesses healthy and those jobs won't go away anytime soon.

I just want to be really clear here. I don't like accounting and I WISH computers could replace accountants. I don't recommend anyone (who has a soul) to go into accountancy.

...just plug in your numbers into the little box in an automated program commissioned by the government and bob's your uncle.

I can do my taxes myself as well; however, my small company has easily spent over a hundred thousand dollars on accountants in the last 10 years. This is despite me doing 5 times more of the bookwork myself than most owners do. The difference between the average Joe doing their personal tax and corporate taxes is the difference between basic Arithmatic and Differential Geometry. Sorry, bad analogy. Accounting really has no math - it is tax law.

People make corporate decisions, not computers. As a company owner you need people who know the rules better than you do (accountants) so that you can make educated decisions. I don't have the time (or desire) to learn tax law and also run a company. A computer can help push the numbers around but will never replace a human in many places.

Would you want a computer choosing your clothing for you? How about choosing where you go on holiday? Well, I wouldn't want a computer making decisions for my company - which is what people are suggesting when they want to replace my accountant with a machine. The difference between a good accountant and a bad one is staggering.

I think that most people really have NO idea what an Accountant actually does. Don't let your kids grow up to be accountants

Last edited:
Here is a better analogy:

Will computers replace Mathematicians soon (not assist, replace)? Just program them with the appropriate axioms and rules of logic and send them off proving everything. We just have to come back afterward and see what new areas of Mathematics they have opened up for us!

Discuss...