How do accountants remain relevant? : the future of public practice : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Business Studies in Management at Massey University, Manawatū, New Zealand
Small accounting practices in New Zealand are slated to come under increasing stress as
computerisation impacts their relevance. Artificial intelligence threatens to undermine any monopoly
they possess in terms of specialist knowledge. Whilst firms of all sizes will be impacted, smaller
practitioners are likely to be especially vulnerable as they tend to have a singular focus on ensuring
their clients are compliant with Inland Revenue. Indeed, they commonly refer to this work as
‘compliance’. This involves bookkeeping, annual accounts production and tax returns, all processes
that look set to be automated. Professional bodies within the accountancy discipline are stressing the
need to move from providing compliance services to offering business advice. The research question
asks how accountants remain relevant during a period of unprecedented technological change to the
profession. This thesis uses a mixed-method research methodology to understand the current context
that the profession operates in and how accountants in practice perceive their future relevance.
Institutional Theory, and the concept of scripting, has been employed in the analysis of the research
data to analyse how practitioners are actively considering their future in light of technological change.
Accountants in practice perceive a positive future for themselves. The way they organise their
practices is likely to change substantially with an increased use of technology and the rise of
contractors at the expense of the traditional workforce. One thing is likely: we will need fewer
accountants in the future.