Meeting industry demands of producing technologically-adept accounting graduates beyond the main domain of accountancy and finance.
SIT Accountancy graduate Ahmad Hashim is currently an associate in KPMG’s transfer pricing consulting department.
All it took was a few clicks and out came immaculately-prepared tax returns. Not only was it fast, but it was also accurate. Ahmad Hashim Bin Suleman was impressed.
“I uploaded a set of management accounts onto the platform and the figures were auto-computed immediately,” he said.
He had technology, the bots, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to thank for wielding some computational magic that would make the most experienced taxman swoon in envy. His capable assistant is a software called AI.TaxAssist.
Once the software had done its work, Hashim checked if the items listed fell under the correct classification categories in the tax sheet. The cleared returns were submitted to reviewers and approvers for more checks and finally, to the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) for filing.
“With a software that can approve and submit taxes on the same platform, errors from extracting and reuploading data can be minimised,” he added.
Screengrab of AI.TaxAssist software in use.
But Hashim was not a tax officer on the job. He was an Accountancy undergraduate at the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), learning how to work with bots.
As such technology known as Robotic Process Automation (RPA) becomes more advanced, SIT is preparing students for the age of automation by getting them used to working with robots and technology.
Instead of viewing technology as a threat which may displace humans, the university treats bots as digital colleagues which will enhance the skills, marketability and resilience in the employment of its graduates.
Bringing Innovation to Accounting
SIT’s Accounting Technology and Innovation Centre (AccTech Centre) brought in the AI.TaxAssist software by local startup Xion.AI, to equip students with the right skillsets to keep up with new automation burgeoning in the industry.
The AccTech Centre is a resource centre that facilitates collaboration, catalysing technology and business innovation in the accounting sector. It is a joint initiative between SIT and Singapore Accountancy Commission (SAC). The Centre leverages faculty expertise from the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and Accountancy programmes, as well as partners with other accounting entities to develop innovative solutions to solve real-world problems faced by the industry.
“The AccTech Centre’s value proposition is to instil in students a deep knowledge of the accounting practice and a passion for innovation,” explained Assistant Professor Michelle Zou, Programme Leader, Accountancy at SIT.
“Since many of the repetitive mundane tasks will be automated, we foresee that cloud accounting, RPA and machine learning analytics will be the future of accounting,” she said.
The aim is to embed new kinds of software training into the university curriculum to align with where the industry is heading.
Ms Saba Khan, Chief Operations Officer of Xion.AI, is also a trainer of the AI.TaxAssist software.
Ms Saba Khan, Chief Operations Officer of Xion.AI, added that these automation tools allow trained professionals to focus on work that requires more critical thinking and human judgement. “Rather than carry out mundane work, humans love to do intelligent work and in environments that stimulate them,” she said.
This was what Hashim experienced. During his final trimester at SIT in June last year, as part of the Advanced Taxation module, a workshop was organised to expose students to AI.TaxAssist.
The software automates repetitive and manual tax computations, and automatically calculates tax returns based on revenue and transaction data.
This allows users like Hashim to focus on higher-value tasks such as business strategy and consulting.
Ready, Set, Automate
For 28-year-old SIT alumnus Hashim, the SIT experience has equipped him with the right skillsets to prepare for the age of automation and thrive within the field. He is now an associate at ‘Big Four’ accounting firm KPMG in the transfer pricing consulting department, and is optimistic about his career pathways.
The accountancy curriculum includes both AI software packages and hands-on industrial projects, allowing students to link theory to practice.
Hashim (centre, in white T-shirt) attended the workshop on the use of AI.TaxAssist as part of the Advanced Taxation module last year.
“As part of our Integrated Work Study Programme (IWSP) where we get attached to companies to gain valuable work experience, one of the projects we did was to study clients’ situations at work and figure out what processes can be automated to improve work efficiency,” he added. “We also participated in design thinking workshops where we proposed solutions based on surveys and interviews conducted with industry partners.”
With bots automating most of the spreadsheet work, Asst Prof Zou pointed out that an accountant’s job scope in the new era will lean heavily towards tasks that cannot be automated easily.
“Aside from technical skills, they will need complementary skills in critical thinking and data interpretation that require human judgement,” she said.
Sharing similar views, Hashim added: “I believe in the next five to 10 years, a majority of the accounting tasks will be automated, and the main role of professionals will be to review the work done by these AI-assisted technologies.”
“At SIT, it is all about applied learning and we were exposed to a whole range of accounting and financial data analytics software packages to equip us with the necessary skillsets for the working world. It has prepared graduates to go further, outside the mainstream understanding of accounting and auditing,” he said.
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