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The profession

Accounting is the sexiest job in the world, says innovation expert

CPA Canada spoke with innovation strategist and CPA, Shawn Kanungo, about disruption, technology, and AI, ahead of his keynote address at the Public Sector Conference from October 17-18

A close-up photo of Shawn Kanungo laughingInnovation strategist and CPA Shawn Kanungo says accounting is thriving now more than ever, but we need a new type of accountant to keep up (Image provided)

At the 2023 Public Sector Conference, keynote speaker Shawn Kanungo will be calling on public sector accountants to leverage disruption as a tool for transformation of the profession.

Named by Edify Magazine as one of their “Top 40 Under 40” and by Inc. Magazine as one of the “100 Most Innovative Leaders,” Kanungo is a marketer, media strategist, futurist and content creator with years of experience driving transformation in government.

He is also an established member of the accounting profession in Canada. He followed in his father’s footsteps to become a CPA, worked at Deloitte for 12 years, and is now married to a CPA.

CPA Canada talked to Kanungo to learn more about disruption in accounting.

CPA Canada: Some of our readers might not be familiar with the concept of disruption. Could you please explain the concept?
Shawn Kanungo (SK): Disruption is a term that has been thrown around throughout history, especially over the last five years.

It was first popularized by Harvard professor and businessman Clayton Christensen in his book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, where he describes a process through which a smaller company can successfully challenge and eventually replace incumbent businesses and organizations.

This concept was great for its time, but we need to apply a new approach to what disruption is today.

Disruption is something or someone that comes out of nowhere and changes the status quo of a particular industry. It could be an individual; it could be a technology or a concept; it could be a brand or an idea. The most important aspect of disruption is that it changes the game significantly.

CPA Canada: What are some of the big disruptors impacting every organization today?
SK: The most disruptive entity in the world today is the individual. Now that we have everything at our fingertips, technology is becoming increasingly more commoditized because of cloud computing and software as a service (SaaS). Knowledge has also been commoditized because of generative AI, Chat GPT, Midjourney, and all these platforms that can create ideas, content, analysis, and even strategies and tactics. Since we have everything in our pockets, we can now do much more with far less and this is a most disruptive idea.

The shift in public and stakeholder expectations because of remote and digital—certainly post pandemic—is changing everything. And of course, cloud and SaaS being adopted by large institutions and public sector organizations also continues to be a disruptor.

Shawn Kanungo sitting with copies of his book, The Bold OnesAccounting isn’t about data entry, it’s about solving financial problems, says Kanungo (Image provided)

CPA Canada: In the public sector, there is sometimes a reluctance to adapt to changing times and embrace innovation due to established processes. How do you challenge the sentiment of, “this is how it’s always been done”?
SK: I think that is the most dangerous mindset to have today. When somebody says they’re accepting mediocrity, they’re accepting the middle; they’re accepting the status quo. No leader should be accepting the status quo in an era of exponential change.

If you’re not caught up with how technology is changing the finance world, and if you’re not caught up with how the public sector is changing, then you are putting your organization at risk. You’re slowing it down and exposing it to fraud, cybersecurity and reputational risk, to name a few. Moreover, if you are simply following the status quo, you risk becoming irrelevant. So, your job is to continuously innovate and experiment. As leaders in this new world, we need to open more time to waste our time.

What do I mean by that? I mean, we need more people to play, to explore, to experiment. We need to give people sandboxes where they can flex their muscles with some of this technology. Whether it’s playing with new tools, or connecting with externals, or working with startups, we need to be able to give people more time to focus on creativity and innovation to enable them to learn and grow.

CPA Canada: You have a talk on your site called “Is accounting dead?” What did you mean by that and what is the roadmap for the future of the profession?
SK: People have been calling for the death of accounting for decades. When the computer came out, they said accounting would die. When Excel came out, they said accounting would die. Around 2000, experts said that by 2010, all finance processes will be done by automation or artificial intelligence, and of course they were wrong.

Accounting is thriving more than ever before, but we need a new type of accountant. We need a new type of finance leader. I believe we need the exponential accountant. We need somebody that understands automation. We need somebody that can take some of those routine tasks, whether it’s data entry, reconciliation, or basic reporting, and flip them on their heads by not being the copier and paster when it comes to data, but by being the manager of all these amazing automation tools.

We need to become the generative AI and advanced analytics experts within our organization. When it comes to becoming this new exponential accountant, we need to continuously learn to stay relevant and keep up with the times.

And so, is accounting dead? No, it’s never going to die. In fact, accounting should be the sexiest job in the world today. We already have the technologies and tools available to us to update this profession. We just need a new type of accountant to go with them.

“It’s our job as accountants to figure out how we can make our own tasks obsolete. If we don’t figure this out, somebody else will” 

CPA Canada: What would you say to the CPAs and public sector workers who fear automation might make their jobs obsolete?
SK: It’s our job as accountants to figure out how we can make our own tasks obsolete. If we don’t figure this out, somebody else will.

We need to go back to what accounting is all about. Accounting isn’t about the tasks. It isn’t about the data entry or the reconciliation. Accounting is about solving finance problems. It’s about making better finance decisions for our organizations so that we can be as optimized as possible.

The main role of accountants is to be business advisors. We need to figure out how AI can take some of our work because it will allow us to do what we do best as accountants, which is create value for our organizations. Instead of fearing it, we need to embrace automation.


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