Big 4’s Massive Technology Investments May Reinvent Accounting

The Big 4 are investing billions of dollars into technology with the intention not only to streamline their operations but to transform their identities, according to Bloomberg Tax.

“We haven’t become a pure technology firm,” Christian Rast, KPMG’s global head of technology and knowledge said in a recent phone interview with Bloomberg Tax. “We are a professional services firm, but technology is core to our future.”

The firms are focusing on artificial intelligence and data analytics while re-training their work forces at a time when accounting leaders believe the profession is undergoing a fundamental change.

“Many of the routine jobs will go, as areas such as invoice processing are automated,” says Narayanan Vaidyanathan, head of business futures at the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. “However, many more jobs will be created as accountants and auditors have a wealth of more information available to them. They can now check all of a company’s transactions in real time, with data analytics allowing them to spot trends and anomalies. That means accountants will be expected to become business advisers not just number checkers. They need to be on top of technology and train staff to use it.”

Some of the investments announced in 2018 and 2019:

KPMG – A $5 billion, five-year investment in automation and AI, new cloud-based technology, creating new products and training.

PwC – $3 billion over the next four years on technology and training.

Ernst & Young – A $1 billion, two-year technology investment in blockchain and automation projects.

Deloitte – Although the biggest firm in the nation hasn’t released an investment figure, it is building a niche providing automation services to law firms and legal offices.

Bruce Braude, hired in July as chief technology officer (CTO) at Deloitte Legal, says, “Each of our divisions has its own CTO so that we can work together to offer clients a technology-led solution – traditional lawyers would give a yes or no answer to whether an action was legal, whereas we can combine with other parts of the firm to offer an entire solution, as well as advising legal offices over areas such as automation.”

KPMG and EY are both looking to India to develop new technology.

Srinivasa Rao, EY’s global vice chair of global delivery services, tells Bloomberg Tax that the firm could increase staff in India by 50% over the next year, from around 50,000 today, to develop AI and analytics products in the country.

“Really this is aimed at emerging markets,” Rao says, “giving them access to things like machine learning that they can adapt for their own tax or audit products, which often have local requirements.” India will become the firm’s second largest office worldwide.