How to avoid a retention and recruitment crisis when adopting AI and automation

Alan Myers, Regional Director at Reed

The impact of the vast digital transformation taking place across the accountancy and finance sector is widespread.


As technology speeds up mundane tasks, it’s essential companies support workforces through unprecedented change, enable career development, and think strategically to attract talent to prevent a recruitment and retention crisis – explains Alan Myers, Regional Director at Reed.

Elon Musk recently said in a public conversation with the UK Prime Minister that artificial intelligence (AI) technology will, one day, mean people need only work if they really want to. Rapidly evolving and transformative technologies are now doing what humans have always done – only quicker, more efficiently, and cheaper.

And the accountancy sector is having to face up to the tech-led fallout as it begins to impact the industry’s greatest asset – its people.

A new world

For finance leaders, who are planning for a very different future – one where the old and often time-consuming ways of conducting business will be obsolete – the requirement to support employees and enable continued staff development through a period of change is essential both to retain valuable workers and attract the new employees in the face of fierce manpower competition.

Evidence of change is clear to see, with 45% of small companies and over half of midsize companies, and 58% of large companies, saying they are now selecting cloud accounting solutions over desktop alternatives. As a result, the accounting software market is set to become a £13.9 billion industry by 2026.

The potential of automation in the accounting and finance sector is huge, with research finding that at least half of accounting and finance tasks could be completed much faster with new technology. This is opening the door to vast digital transformation across the sector, but it is also leaving certain roles and careers exposed. And, tellingly, only 30% of current accountancy professionals feel ‘very confident’ about their job security, according to Reed’s latest salary guides, which may be largely down to the pace of technological change.

Employee concerns

The result of technology adoption in the sector is that many traditional accounting and finance roles, including auditing and bookkeeping, are being phased out, as the automated processing capabilities offered by AI, machine learning (ML), and robotic process automation (RPA) gather pace.

With understandable concerns that automation may take their jobs away, there are fears that a substantial number of employees across the sector are, inevitably, looking at alternative employment options and assessing the merits of different industries. Additionally, this can result in employees feeling disengaged and showing signs of presenteeism – where employees are physically at work, but not mentally invested in their development – which could result in a fall in productivity levels as well as overall job satisfaction.

Such trends, if left unaddressed, could well lead to an employee retention and recruitment crisis for the sector. Businesses need to deploy a strategic approach that acknowledges and counters the impact of technology progression on employees while unlocking the opportunities it offers.

Protection for workforces

There are several ways accountancy and finance firms can look to protect their teams and still access the productivity and commercial advantages AI and automation can deliver:

1. Raising investment into new technologies

Despite fears for their jobs, interestingly, research has revealed that 60% of accountants are ‘frustrated’ with being unable to apply tech solutions to automate what are mundane and time-consuming administrative tasks. They say this is because budget decision-makers are delaying or are indecisive when it comes to making technology-based investments. A key part of solving this problem is for accountancy and finance businesses to better understand what new technologies are on the horizon and what they are willing to invest in and adopt.

2. Future-proofing recruitment strategies

By investing in and readily adopting new technologies, accounting and finance businesses can afford their employees the stimulating opportunity to unlock new, futureproofed skillsets. Those skills can be invaluable in helping them to both oversee the work AI is conducting and develop their technical knowledge to help plug the widening skills gap that is widening due to the changing landscape. This will underpin better job satisfaction outcomes, improve company loyalty, reduce staff churn, and help tackle staff recruitment costs in the long run.

Many accountancy and finance professionals want to take advantage of the benefits innovative tools, such as AI and automation, offer and grasp the chance to evolve their day-to-day capabilities, develop their skillsets, and focus on more fulfilling, data-led consultative and strategic approaches in their work responsibilities.

At the same time, while AI is replacing necessary human input for some routine tasks, it is also creating new, more in-demand roles for those in the industry. For example, we’re seeing increased requests for candidates to fill roles requiring a degree of technical competency, including financial accountants, statutory accountants, and reporting accountants – but there are currently few candidates who specialise in these areas.

Prospective employers should note that rather than risking their job security and taking on a new role just for the higher salary, research shows that most new job seekers are looking for clear career progression opportunities that grow their salaries naturally. Firms must clearly demonstrate that they can provide such development pathways if they are to remain competitive when it comes to attracting talent.

Employers of choice

Job support also continues to be vital to become an employer of choice. For instance, graduate roles in the accountancy industry see many working towards becoming chartered accountants. Firms should offer this support as standard for all employees, while proactively funding resits and providing other additional benefits. This should be part of the prospective retention and recruitment package that also acts as a positive external selling point for the business.

And finally, there remains a strategic opportunity for businesses to seek out potential candidates from other industries. This requires an innovative and active recruitment approach.

By offering the chance for new talent to upskill within the accountancy industry, businesses will be better able to access new talent, which can contribute to the latest skillsets needed to make the most of the technology revolution underway across the accountancy and finance sector.

Alan Myers is a Regional Director at Reed. He has over 16 years’ experience at Reed, specialising in recruiting for accountancy, finance, financial services, legal and procurement roles.

The subject matter and the content of this article are solely the views of the author. FinanceFeeds does not bear any legal responsibility for the content of this article and they do not reflect the viewpoint of FinanceFeeds or its editorial staff.

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