By Irene Peter Atolo
“Good morning sir. I really want to appreciate you for your kind support. I am so grateful sir.
“I have not really had time to discuss my induction ceremony with you sir. It was a great experience but there were a lot of frightening threats. The accounting profession has been overtaken by technology through the use of artificial intelligence, robots and system software. I have been so worried about this technological advancement. I have been trying to secure a job to further my education but I have the limitation of ‘HND graduate’. Please sir, I need a fatherly advice on what to do sir.”
These are unedited words of a newly qualified Chartered Accountant. At first, a drained lassitude spread over me as I read those words. I closed my Whatsapp message as I could not attempt a response.
But, on a certain languorous Sunday, three days after, I was able to craft a poorly thought out reply which to my mind was not quite apt or comprehensive enough to satisfy his curiosity and the fear of the unknown.
In an attempt to answer his question comprehensively, I wish to review the effects of technology on humanity as to whether it creates threats or opportunities. My thoughts will not be based on any theoretical construct or expert expositions or scientific evocation but purely on my personal observations and knowledge acquired during my career as a Chartered Accountant and a Chartered Insurer and work experience, including my exposition to other geographies and regions.
Before proceeding to answer the question, I wish to review other professions and vocations. Technology has affected all aspects of human endeavour.
Banking was one of the functions drastically affected. When I started work on 2nd of February 1973, all processes were manual. You could spend three hours or even a whole day either to deposit money or make a withdrawal. Bank staffs stopped attending to customers at 3 pm in order to balance their books and some slept in their offices to ensure compliance. Tellers were human and customers deposited or withdrew in the same branch they opened the account. Personal saving accounts were on cards in the bank and on coloured saving pamphlets updated on deposits and withdrawals or interest and charges.
Technology then was archaic: adding machines, calculators, accounting machines, comptometers etc. There were vacancies all over banks then. Even the Central Bank was short of staff. During the civil war, banks and other financial institutions begged for typists and clerks. Banks required tellers, clerks, secretaries, typists, messengers, drivers, dispatch riders, etc.
Today, the story is different. Recently, a friend completed a senior-citizen’s form online for a loan from an old generation bank and submitted same by 11 am and, pronto, by 3 pm he got the alert after the deduction of life insurance premium and administrative charges.
Before now, there were many bottlenecks and multiplicity of committees before conclusions could be made.
Everyone now knows about automated teller machines (ATM). You can now withdraw your cash from not only your bank’s branch location, but from any bank branch or any location across geographies. A colleague was in London on holiday in June this year and he used a Nigerian bank smart card to shop and withdraw money in British pounds without hassle.
Technology, succinctly put, has taken the place of humans and would continue as time goes on. In the very near future, cryptocurrency can displace paper money and may even eliminate the functions of banks, including central banks.
We are in a bold epiphany and nobody knows the extent it will go but unimaginable changes are sure. But in all, there are opportunities, as I will explain later.
Apart from banking and Insurance and other financial institutions, which have been suffused in technological revolution, every other activity of human existence is changing.
Let us consider printing. The use of technology has really dealt a big blow on this industry. In the past banks and other businesses were dependent on a lot of printing materials, but today cheque books have almost been eliminated. Not only that, many forms are now being completed online and financial statements are now mostly in soft copies.
Dividend warrants are gone forever with e-dividends. Registrars may soon lose their relevance as their services have been taken over by technology. The era when money was deposited with them are over while a larger percentage of unclaimed dividends are no longer domiciled with them. Registrars must venture into other businesses to survive.
About five years ago someone suggested investing in photography in the form of a studio for printing pictures. It would have been a wasted investment as anyone can take and print photos via few clicks from a smart phone. A global case in point is Kodak—a giant picture printing Goliath—which was brought to her knees because she failed to adopt technology.
Let us look at the transport sector. People travelling to Britain in those days have to go by sea and probably have to spend months at Sea before their final destination. But today most people now travel in a more modernised and technologically advanced airplanes, that require only minimal human intervention in their operations. One can now travel long distances without any foreboding of mishaps.
In Europe and America and other economically advanced countries, electric cars are now in vogue. They are driven without fossil fuel, nor do they need oil lubrications. Even cars without drivers are being tested.
Medical doctors can now consult accurately through apps and subsequently treat from remote areas across continents. Lasers can be used for surgery instead of opening up a patient. Technology is affecting all professions.
I have witnessed artificial intelligence in so many areas. A friend drove into Heathrow, took a receipt and on return the machine automatically has calculated the number of hours the car has stayed while he was away and charged accordingly, without any human intervention. You can come to a shop, buy your groceries, pass them through the machine to calculate your aggregate cost of your purchase and pay; then collect your balance, if any, without the shopkeeper’s intervention.
One can go on and on but what opportunities are there in this technological revolution? They are so many.
In banking, for example, POS Agents across the country have been created; they do not only employ more people but bring the unbanked into the banking net. MTN has just been registered as a fintech and it is expected to create more than 500,000 agents and up to more than one million jobs would be created.
In transportation, Uber has created a lot of jobs for hitherto unemployed drivers and call the bluff of the painted taxis. It has made life easy for both commuters and drivers of these vehicles.
Payments platforms have been created out of the banking system for the payment for goods and services and new jobs are thereby created.
In insurance, you can pay and print motor insurance certificates from the comfort of your home and it is now possible for law enforcement agents to check the genuineness of your certificate through NIID. (Nigeria Insurace Industry database)
But what do you do in a period of rapid technological revolution:
1. Realise that certification is not an end but a means to an end. You went to school to learn how to learn. So learn as many skills as possible. A medical doctor may also be a good writer.
2. Don’t limit yourself to your country alone. They say the world is a village. If you are a wizard in programming you will be fished out from anywhere you are in the planet.
3. Many aspects of whatever we do cannot be automated. For instance, in accounting, you cannot automate consultancy or assurance and to some extent forensic evaluation. Accountants can go into risk management and corporate governance and also succeed.
4. Be inquisitive and find solutions to problems. Note that humans have only discovered a very insignificant part of possibilities. Look at the electric car revolution.
5. Look for unexploited areas. In accounting, small businesses have no solutions. Provide it.
6. Up till now we cannot preserve our farm products. Why can’t we have powdered beans that can make good akara.
7. Shakespeare was not a genius; but he learnt the skill of writing very well. Anything worth doing is worth doing well.
8. Be the first to exploit new legislations and make use of them. This is particularly relevant to accounting as it relates to taxation. In Nigeria, nobody bothers about personal data security, but it is a big issue in Europe and America, exploit it.
9. Google maps show us the way and when there are traffic bottlenecks. Why can’t we work on apps that can show that terrorists and herdsmen are operating ahead of us.
10. Spend like an hour a day thinking and meditating. Someone thought out Uber. Before then, we had the cars, the roads and the drivers but we didn’t have the sense. One day a single satellite in the orbit might provide us light.
11. Accounting is still very historical. Join hands to make it give real life reports.
12. We can go on and on but one thing is clear technology creates more opportunities than we often think.