As CPAs accept that artificial intelligence (AI) is no longer a thing of science fiction, they also must become mindful of the impact it will have on the workforce and the workplace. A two-year McKinsey Global Institute study suggests intelligent agents and robots could replace 30 percent of the world’s current human labor by 2030. However, the COVID-19 pandemic will likely accelerate the adoption of technology and automation tools as it pressures organizations to embrace new and more efficient ways of working.
For instance, PwC’s June 2020 COVID-19 CFO Pulse Survey found that 52 percent of global corporate finance leaders are planning to improve the remote working experience and make it a permanent option for the roles that allow it. And when it comes to CPA firms, Arizent’s June 2020 COVID-19 Pulse Survey found that 82 percent of all firms are “very or somewhat likely” to allow employees to work from home permanently.
Long term, the automation and displacement of so many jobs promises to reshape CPAs’ firms and the organizations they serve—and so will the social and generational changes unfolding before us.
Consider the “silver tsunami” gathering strength. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, roughly 10,000 baby boomers reach age 65 each day and that number will grow to nearly 12,000 a day by 2024. By 2031, the youngest of the estimated 73 million baby boomers will reach full retirement age.
Now consider how many leadership positions in CPA firms and companies are held by baby boomers. Can you see how dramatically different the workforce will look—and act—when Gen Xers and millennials step in to fill those roles?
Looking ahead to 2027, the Society predicts baby boomers will mostly be retired; Gen Xers who have proactively upskilled will lead organizations alongside millennials, whose sheer volume as the largest generation in the workforce dominates workplace culture; and Gen Zers—the largest, most diverse generation in the U.S., and the first to have never lived in a world without the internet—will begin to enter and change the professional workforce.
As a result, workers will mostly be agile digital natives who demand greater flexibility, participate in a much larger project-based and gig economy, and are more socially conscious than ever before—and they’ll expect their employers and the brands (i.e., companies and organizations) they support to be the same.
This is driving unprecedented change. According to GlobalWebIndex’s 2020 Corporate Social Responsibility Report, 68 percent of online consumers in the U.S. and UK would consider not using a brand because of poor or misleading corporate social responsibility, and close to 50 percent would pay a premium for brands with a socially conscious image. They also found that 66 percent of Gen Zers feel it’s important to contribute to the community they live in, matching a Facebook for Business report stating 68 percent of Gen Zers expect brands to contribute to society.
On a deeper social level, Facebook for Business also reports 77 percent of Gen Zers feel more positive toward a brand when it promotes gender equality, and a survey by Morning Consult found that 82 percent of Gen Zers appreciate it when companies and business leaders make public statements about movements such as Black Lives Matter, but still believe that actions speak louder than words. Speaking of actions, Gartner found that nearly half of Gen Zers plan to work with businesses and institutions that demonstrate corporate social responsibility.
In short, CPAs must brace for the future impact of not only a tech revolution but a social revolution that’s going to push both modern organizations and the CPA profession to resolve many long-standing cultural issues in order to attract and retain talent, customers, and clients.
This article was originally published on the Illinois CPA Society’s website as part of a seven-part special feature offering insights into the future of the accounting and finance profession.