Lessons for Accountants from Self-Driving Cars

How to make the leap from sci-fi fantasy to business reality in six steps.

By Hitendra Patil

The Uberization of Accounting has already begun, and disruption is creating a “no-choice future” for some firms.

But, historically, every successful technology has only enriched human lives. Technology has always been making it possible for humanity to experience new possibilities that were once unimaginable. And enriching human life is the accounting profession's inherent responsibility, stated or otherwise. As Ron Baker says, "We make transformations. We change people's lives."

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Self-driving cars are meant to enrich human life. And therein are the hints of the future of the accounting profession. Here's how:

1 – Multitasking and Time Leverage

Cars: Today, when you drive your car, you can't read a book (unless you risk your and others' lives on the road). The key advantage of driverless cars is they enable multitasking, which means they enable us to utilize more time in doing things that we'd like to, love to, want to and need to do - without worrying about safety and managing complexities on the road.

Accounting: Automation, artificial intelligence, and integration technologies will make "producing" accounting information a "driverless" process. Technology will "do" the repetitive, data-intensive tasks that trained and experienced accountants performed. Accountants' will have more precious time to apply their intelligence on client situations. Accountants will do things they'd like to, love to, want to and need to do - to transform and change clients' lives. And in the process – accountants will transform their own lives.

2 – Safety

Cars: We all believe (!) that we are safer drivers than others there on the road. Driverless cars are NOT just about the cars only. Cars will be able to connect real-time with a host of other data points. The mega-super-computing powers inside each car will process a ton of data in a split second. Cars will make instant artificial intelligence driven decisions to ensure a higher level of safety. These interactive technologies are suggesting that there will be no need for traffic lights! It will cut the impact of human factors such as moods, biases, alertness or otherwise. It will all only enhance safety on the roads.

Accounting: Errors in accounting have destroyed companies. Accountants and tax preparers have lost their licenses because of data errors. Interactive, integrated technologies with powerful artificial intelligence built in will pre-validate and pre-reconcile data. Accountants will not spend an enormous amount of time to ensure the accuracy of data. Technology will ensure accuracy, hence safety of data. It will all free up even more precious time for accountants. Safer data will increase confidence in interpretations and inferences. Accountants will derive more powerful intelligence from the verifiably accurate data. It will simply enhance the quality of advice accountants give to clients. This, in turn, will help accountants to change more lives, more positively.

3 – Efficiency

Cars: Google's self-driving car project data suggests the car is rarely involved in accidents. The accidents of driverless cars are far lesser those caused by human drivers. Hence, there is a higher potential for driverless cars to reduce congestion on roads. Driverless cars will communicate with each other. Potentially, they will improve the efficiency of traffic flow.

Accounting: Automation and integration technologies have created huge efficiency gains for accounting and tax firms. Artificially intelligent technologies will further increase efficiency, and reduce costs of routine processing. Like driverless cars, humans will NOT need to handle data to make routine decisions. Gone will be the days of manually turning data into meaningful information. Instead, accountants will apply their brains onto discovering client-specific intelligence from accurate, up-to-the-minute data.

4 – New Outcomes

Cars: As software drives the car, the software will manage complexities instead of human drivers. Hence less "human-errors." Cars will not have several dashboard indicators for people to interpret and take decisions. Rather than just reaching you from point A to B, cars can and will provide new outcomes. For example, the design of car interiors will provide more relaxation or more working space. A car can be a tech-driven living room that also transports you to your destination. Car exteriors can touch-lessly identify and authenticate car owners. The "outcomes" will be new!

Accounting: Accountants will no longer (just) "prepare" financial statements. Accountants will deliver new outcomes and new value that clients need, recognize and appreciate. For instance:

From Informing After-The-Fact to Identifying Future Challenges: "Customized, relevant business intelligence" that helps decision-making will replace routine reporting.

From Most Trusted Advisor to Most Consulted Strategist:  "Advisors" will become "Business Strategists." They will help clients to manage their business challenges in new ways.

From Compliance Guardians to Leverage Architects:"Client-industry-specific expertise services" will replace "compliance" services.

From Financial Reviewers to Future Growth Enablers: CPAs will become the "Growth Catalysts" for small businesses;...and so on...

Essentially, "outcomes" delivered by accounting firms “will (have to) be new”.

5 – Less (Menial) Jobs; More (Meaningful) Jobs

Cars: Driverless cars can reduce the number of jobs such as taxi drivers, food delivery drivers, Uber drivers, truck drivers, etc. But these drivers whose jobs are threatened now will "upgrade" themselves. With appropriate new training, they will transform into "customer delight representatives." They will become the on-site brand ambassadors of products and services. It will all happen due to more human interactions with customers. These "drivers" of today could become "mechanics" of tomorrow - thereby increasing their earning potential.

Accounting: From paper statements to data. From data to information. From information to analysis. From analysis to intelligence. Across the entire value-chain in the accounting profession, things are moving from humans to technology. Cloud integration and automation technologies are rapidly taking over human jobs in accounting. Uberization of Accounting is happening. Is it a threat? Or is it an opportunity? A majority of new clients and staff of accounting firms will be millennials. Studies after studies show that millennials do not want to do menial jobs. They are looking for meaningful careers. And technology is enabling accounting firms to provide that meaning to the millennial generation.

6 – Reduced Costs. Improved Value

Cars: According to the US Department of Transportation, each life costs $ 9.2 million. Driverless cars with better safety record will reduce insurance and healthcare costs significantly. These savings will be leveraged in enriching the experience of traveling.

Accounting: Clients' will expect redefined value from accountants. Clients will NOT expect accounting services to be cheaper. They will expect faster delivery of services. They will expect more in-depth analysis of financial situations. They will seek business strategy advice from accountants. The clients' experience of "value" received from accountants will undergo a paradigm shift. Clients will expect improvement in the price-performance ratio in the outcomes accountants deliver to them.

The Future Is Fantastic 


  • "Nearly four out of five managing partners in 301 small accounting firms surveyed recommend not becoming a practicing accountant in firms like the ones they are running," according to Russ Alan Prince, writing for Forbes, adding
  • "Slightly more than 85 percent feel that artificial intelligence will prove advantageous for clients as well as many accounting firms."
  • KPMG, InformationWeek reports, has made a new hire to help its knowledge workers innovate: the IBM Watson artificial intelligence computing system.

The future is fantastic for accountants who can ride the wave of technological Uberization and turn the expectations of the new generation of clients and staff to their firm's advantage.


2 Responses to “Lessons for Accountants from Self-Driving Cars”

  1. Shirley Smith Karenko

    This article is so efficient. The title is “Seven Lessons for Accountants” and only six are listed.

    • CPA Trendlines Research

      Thank you, Shirley! We really appreciate your sharp-eyed reading. It’s readers like you who help to keep us on our toes. We’ve tweaked the piece pursuant to your feedback.