The Effects of Digitalisation on Accounting Service Companies
Tommi Jylhä
and Nestori Syynimaa
ICT Department, Central Finland Health Care District, Jyväskylä, Finland
Faculty of Information Technology, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland
Keywords: Digitalisation, Automation, Robotisation, Artificial Intelligence, Innovation, Diffusion.
Abstract: Rapidly expanding digitalisation profoundly affects several jobs and businesses in the following years. Some
of the jobs are expected to disappear altogether. The expanding digitalisation can be seen as an example of
the diffusion of innovations. The world has witnessed similar developments since the early years of
industrialisation. Some of the sectors that will face the most disruptive changes are accounting, bookkeeping,
and auditing. As much as 94 to 98 per cent of these jobs are at risk. The purpose of this study was to find out
how digitalisation, automation of routines, robotics, and artificial intelligence are expected to affect the
business structure, organisations, tasks, and employees in Finland in the following years. In this study, 11 of
the biggest companies providing outsourced accounting services in Finland were interviewed. According to
the results, the development of the technology will lead to substantial loss of routine jobs in the industry in
the next few years. The results of the study will help estimate the changes the rapidly developing technology
will bring to the industry in focus. The results will also help the organisations in the industry to learn from the
experiences of the other organisations, see the potential benefits, and prepare for the forthcoming change
through strategic choices, management, and personnel training.
The effects of technology development on the whole
industry sectors is not a new phenomenon. For
instance, in Northern-England in the late 1700’s
people were afraid that the new sewing machines
would danger their jobs and income (Krugman,
2013). The speed of new technological innovations is
higher than ever. Some scholars argue that the highest
growth in productivity is still ahead (Pohjola, 2014).
Contrary to this, some scholars see that the highest
increase in productivity is already passed, and
technology development is now focused on
entertainment and free-time (Gordon, 2012).
The purpose of this study was to find out how
digitalisation, automation, robotics, and artificial
intelligence are expected to affect the business
structure, organisations, tasks, and employees in
Finland in the following years.
The paper is structured as follows. This section
introduces the subject area of the paper, including the
accounting industry in Finland. The second section
introduces the background theories of the study. The
research method is described in section three. The
results of the study are provided in section 4. Finally,
section 5 concludes the paper with discussion and
directions for future research.
1.1 Technology Development Effect on
The developing technology is expected to obviate a
remarkable portion of jobs in the near future.
According to 352 Artificial Intelligence (AI)
researchers, there is 50 per cent chance that AI will
beat the performance of human beings in 45 years and
replacing the human workforce totally in 120 years
(Grace et al., 2018). In the United States, even 47 per
cent of the jobs can be automated during the next two
decades (Frey and Osborne, 2017). In Finland, the
percentage is 35 and in Norway 33 (Pajarinen et al.,
2015). Especially the low-wage and low-skill
occupations are at risk (ibid).
The revolutionary changes in society caused by
developing technology have been witnessed to
happen in 40 – 50-year cycles as illustrated in Figure
1. We are currently on the verge of the sixth
Kondratieff cycle: Intelligent technologies (Wilenius,
Jylhä, T. and Syynimaa, N.
The Effects of Digitalisation on Accounting Service Companies.
DOI: 10.5220/0007808605020508
In Proceedings of the 21st International Conference on Enterprise Information Systems (ICEIS 2019), pages 502-508
ISBN: 978-989-758-372-8
2019 by SCITEPRESS Science and Technology Publications, Lda. All rights reserved
Figure 1: Modern economies fluctuate in a cycle of 40-50
years (Wilenius, 2014, p. 3).
The new technology does not cause changes in
production per se; massive changes in organisations
are also needed. Innovations and organisational
changes together are causing so-called skill-biased
technical change (SBTC). Cognitive skills have a
high effect on all changes in general, but especially
when the change includes the adoption of new
technology (Bresnahan et al., 2002).
1.2 Accounting Business in Finland
In 2015, two-thirds of the Finnish accounting
companies had more than 10 employees (see Table 1).
Table 1: Distribution of sizes of member organisations of
the Association of Finnish Accoutning Firms
(Taloushallintoliitto, 2019).
Size (persons) Percentage
1 – 2 5 %
3 – 4 10 %
5 – 9 22 %
10 – 20 25 %
> 20 38 %
In 2016, there were 4 235 companies in the
industry, with 11 702 employees (see Table 2). The
total turnover of the industry was 970 million euros.
The number of companies is decreased 2 per cent
since 2014 and the number of employees 3 per cent.
At the same time, the total turnover has increased by
one per cent. Moreover, turnover per employee has
raised 9 per cent from 76 000 euros to 83 000 euros.
Table 2: Accounting industry in Finland
(Taloushallintoliitto, 2019).
Year Companies
(million euros)
2014 4333 915 12 017
Year Companies
(million euros)
2015 4295 958 12 253
2016 4235 970 11 702
The accounting industry has centralised in
Finland in the last decade. Smaller companies have
typically run by owners and a small number of
employees. Due to retirement, companies are
acquired by bigger companies.
Currently, the accounting industry in Finland is
advancing from digital accounting towards AI and
robotisation as illustrated in Figure 2.
Figure 2: Development of digital accounting in Finland
(adapted from Lahti and Salminen, 2014, p. 27).
1.3 Key Concepts
Digitalisation can be defined as “the use of digital
technologies to change a business model and provide
new revenue and value-producing opportunities; it is
the process of moving to a digital business” (Gartner,
Automation is not a synonym to digitalisation.
Digitalisation is creating value by introducing
something totally new whereas automation is
improving something existing (Moore, 2015).
Robotisation is a sub-area of automation. A robot
can be defined as a mechanical device that works in
physical world (Linturi and Kuittinen, 2016). Robotic
process automation, however, includes also software
robots (Willcocks et al., 2015).
There are at least five types of innovations that can be
identified from the literature (Schumpeter and Fels,
1. The launch of a new product or a new species of
an already known product,
2. Application of new methods of production or
sales of a product (not yet proven in the industry),
1990's 2000's 2010's 2020's
AI and
The Effects of Digitalisation on Accounting Service Companies
3. The opening of a new market (the market for
which a branch of the industry was not yet
4. Acquiring new sources of supply of raw material
or semi-finished goods, and
5. New industry structure such as the creation or
destruction of a monopoly position.
As such, the innovation does not need to be new per
se, as long as it has some novelty value to the adopter.
Innovations are usually technological, consisting of
typically two components; physical device and
knowledge, i.e., software (Rogers, 2003).
Innovation adoption and implementation
spreading are commonly called diffusion. Before the
diffusion starts, important decisions are made and
operations performed, which leads to the birth of the
innovation. This process is called to innovation-
development process (Rogers, 2003):
1. Needs or problems,
2. Research (basic and applied),
3. Development,
4. Commercialisation,
5. Diffusion and Adoption,
6. Consequences
People and organisations are adopting innovations in
different phases as illustrated in Figure 3. Typically,
early adopters have higher education and social status
than the late adopters. Moreover, early adopters are
more emphatic and resilient, and they are pursuing
better education and more respected jobs. (Rogers,
Figure 3: Adopter categorisation on the basis of
innovativeness (adapted from Rogers, 2003, p. 281).
When adopting an innovation, the following
decision process is used (Rogers, 2003):
1. Knowledge,
2. Persuasion,
3. Decision,
4. Implementation, and
5. Confirmation.
In Information Systems (IS) science, the persuasion
and decision phases have been proven to be explained
by the unified theory of acceptance and use of
technology (UTAUT) by Venkatesh, Morris, Davis
and Davis (2003). The UTAUT is illustrated in Figure
Figure 4: Unified theory of acceptance and use of
technology (Venkatesh et al., 2003).
In this paper, the qualitative research approach (see
Kvale, 1996) was chosen, as we are trying to
understand the phenomenon of digitalisation. The
empirical data was gathered using semi-structured
interviews. The questions were formed based on three
themes as listed in Table 3. The first theme contained
questions about organisations’ current state and
experiences of digitalisations. The second theme
contained questions related to organisations’ goals
and targets toward digitalisation. And finally, the
third theme contained questions about how the
organisations’ see how the digitalisation, automation,
robotics, and AI will affect the organisations and the
accounting industry.
Table 3: Interview themes and number of questions.
Theme # questions
Organisation’s current state and experience 10
Organisation’s goals 5
Effects of digitalisation, automation,
robotics, and artificial intelligence
The interviewed organisations were selected
using a non-probabilistic sampling method:
purposive sampling. The purpose was to include the
biggest companies from Finland. The companies
were found using the accounting company search at, the Largest Companies
search at,
companies’ web sites and authors knowledge of the
13.5 %
34 %
34 %
16 %2.5 %
Gender Age Experience
of Use
ICEIS 2019 - 21st International Conference on Enterprise Information Systems
industry. To increase the reliability of the research,
also public sector accounting organisations
(municipality and government-owned) were
In total, 15 organisations were contacted, from
which of three did not response at all. One of the
contacted organisation declined to attend the research
appealing to trade secrets. The statistics of the
remaining 11 organisations are listed in Table 4. Each
organisation was interviewed once.
Table 4: Interviewed organisations.
(million euros)
# employees
A 10 – 20 < 100
B > 40 > 500
C > 40 > 500
D < 10 < 100
E 20 – 40 > 500
F > 40 300 – 500
G 20 – 40 300 – 500
H < 10 < 100
I 10 – 20 100 – 300
J < 10 100 – 300
K > 40 > 500
From each organisation, a senior-level executive,
such as CIO, was interviewed using Skype. The
interviews were recorded and transcribed. The
lengths of interviews were from 19 to 66 minutes with
an average of 38 minutes. The interviews were
analysed using the directed content analysis (see
Hsieh and Shannon, 2005).
In this section the results of the analysis of interviews
are described. The quotes are translated from Finnish
so that the content would remain as close to original
as possible. The code in the parenthesis next to the
quotes refers to the interviewed person.
4.1 Organisations’ Current State and
Digitalisation, automation, robotics, and artificial
intelligence (DARAI) is seen as an opportunity by all
respondents: “definitely an opportunity. The threat is
always associated with new technologies, but the
positive effects are higher.” (I8). Eight respondents
said that they are using automation. Automation is
used inside applications, whenever possible. Between
the applications, manual tasks are replaced by robots:
“if we need automation between multiple
applications, the robot is the only option.” (I6).
Artificial intelligence is only entering the industry:
“AI is still the future” (I3), “It is the fact that only a
few have advanced from software robotics to AI”
(I4). One of the respondents said that they are using
AI on a daily basis: “We are using AI in customer
services – for instance applying accounting rules,
filling employee rules, memo vouchers, and
reconciliation” (I2). A totally new theme was
analytics: “When we see all the data, we can analyse
it and serve our customers even better” (I3).
Six respondents said that they have positive
experiences with using new technologies. Employee
resources could have been focused to more
specialised tasks, as robots take care of routine tasks.
“there is not many who is longing for the past where
you need to do things manually” (I7).
Using the new technologies have shown to
customers as “faster response times” (I6). Accounting
is also always up-to-date and provides real-time data
for decision making. New technologies are lowering
costs as manual tasks are replaced by the technology:
“it takes some time, but as we get the robot capacity
to different processes, it leads to lower prices to
customers” (I2). The technology also raises the
quality, as “the less the manual work, the less the
errors” (I4).
Most of the customer feedback is related to
change resistance: “for older customers, these new
systems are more challenging, and they are not so
keen to use these systems” (I7). “But this is rather
marginal, as soon as we can show the benefits, the
resistance is gone. Or not gone, but we can proceed.”
(I8). The unreliability of the new technology has also
caused some feedback: “of course there are some
bugs in the beginning, which irritates customers, but
they won’t notice them on later stages” (I1).
The respondents have had positive experiences on
robotics: “I thought that robotisation would be
expensive, but software robots are actually very cost-
effective and ROIs relatively short” (I2). There were
also some negative experiences: “cloud services are
sometimes slow which frustrates. These new systems
have also been surprisingly error-prone when
compared to old systems. And because everything
runs on third-party services, our IT can’t do anything
but wait.” (I7).
The biggest challenges are also related to the relia-
The Effects of Digitalisation on Accounting Service Companies
bility of the new technology: “there might be
situations, where one robot stops, many others will
stop too” (I11). Some respondents were surprised at
how slow the implementation phase could be. The
processes needed to be described in detail, as the
robots can only do what they have been instructed to
do: “you really need to describe every single move”
(I5). Describing the processes has sometimes been
also beneficial: “there have been changes to almost all
processes, as we had to think why we have done this
way and is this step even necessary” (I5).
Experiences on how employees react to new
technologies were contradictory. For instance, “some
may see the removal of routine work extremely
positive”, while some fear to lose their jobs.
Ten respondents said that there had been no
effects on the number of employees. However, the
new technology prepares organisations for forth-
coming massive retirements in Finland: “certain tasks
are disappearing, and as people are retiring, we won’t
necessarily need to hire a new employee” (I6). Future
employees likely need to know more about
robotisation than accounting.
4.2 Organisations’ Goals
All respondents have some goals on using new
technologies. For instance, “we have 50 targets
waiting for implementation” (I2), “there are 40 items
on our robotization backlog” (I6), and “we need to
robotise 50 tasks during this year” (I11).
Six respondents had plans for using AI, although
only part of them in the near future: “we are currently
starting an AI-project and we will use it in two use-
cases” (I9).
Seven respondents said that they are currently
using new technologies to improve their current
services: “that is why we are using robotics, as it is
the way to improve our efficiency” (I11).
Only one respondent had not set measurable
targets for using the new technology. Four
respondents indicated having set targets for savings
on labour: “we have, of course, set targets for
efficiency” (II5), “we measure the saved working
hours” (I3). Some also had numerical targets for
robotisation: “we have now 25 robots, in five years
there will be quite a lot” (I2).
The effects of new technology on organisations’
strategies are, and have been, eminent: “it is in the
centre of our strategy” (I2), “it is kind of support
beam, which has to work so that we are efficient and
are able to answer to our customers’ needs” (I8).
4.3 Effects of Digitalisation,
Automation, Robotics, and
Artificial Intelligence
Almost all respondents mentioned a remarkable
change in employees’ duties: “as soon as these
robotisations are implemented, people’s jobs are
changing toward robot controllers, specialists, and
consultants” (I2). The number of specialist type of
duties is increasing: “in the future, being an
accountant is not just reconciliation of accounts, but
more like analysing and dealing with exceptions – as
robots are not good at it” (I6).
Only three respondents said that the new
technology would decrease the number of employees
in the future: “some are not able to work in new roles
so those may lose their jobs. But it is more due to
changing role, as the growth takes care that there is
enough work to do in other roles” (I5). Others see the
reduction of employees eminent: “in the future, these
need to be done with less staff” (I6) and “we have
estimated that we can still automate 30 – 50 per cent
of our processes” (I9). The new technology can also
be used to deal with the retirement: “we need to pay
attention to retirement during the next three to five
years and compensate that using robotisation” (I2).
What comes to the accounting industry, the
respondents had fewer opinions. However, most of
the respondents indicated that the labour needs would
decrease in the industry “definitely” (I3): “I believe
that the number of staff will remarkably decrease, as
you can generate the same turnover with fewer
people” (I8). Some saw that automation and
robotisation remove the need for recruiting new
employees: “it is balancing with the resources as do
you need to hire a new employee if someone changes
to other employer or retires” (I6).
Accounting industry in Finland has been
consolidating in the last decade. The new technology
may change the markets: “it is possible that due to
digitalisation, new players may enter the market the
same way Uber did. Maybe not during the next three
years but in five. I think that even new global players
are possible” (I2).
All except two of the respondents believe that
their position in market will remain the same or gets
even better: “we are looking for and are pursuing for
growth” (I3), “I’m very confident about our market
share” (I4), “naturally, we hope that our market share
increases” (I7), and “we are leaders in developing, we
are widely using the new technology, and we have
specialised knowledge” (I8). Some reminded that the
continuous development is needed to even keep their
ICEIS 2019 - 21st International Conference on Enterprise Information Systems
current market share: “we can’t rest on our oars, we
need to keep going” (I8).
Customers are expecting the usage of the new
technological advancements: “it is the premise of our
customers to use the new technology, as that is what
we are representing in the first place” (I8).
New technologies are affecting the unit prices of
the industry: “the price we can get from our customers
is decreasing all the time, so all you can do is to be
more productive” (I1). “At best, the prices have
dropped to half during the past five years” (I1).
5.1 Conclusions
There has been a strong tendency to centralisation in
the accounting industry in Finland for many years.
The interviewed organisations are expecting that the
centralisation trend will continue. Another clear trend
is the usage of new technology to increase
productivity. The smaller organisations are not able
to invest in new technologies and consequently, to the
price competition. Usually, in many industries, the
revolutionary change is caused by a global player
using a scalable business model (Ilmarinen and
Koskela, 2015). However, only one interviewed
organisation anticipated the coming of such a global
competitor. This may be due to very conservative and
traditional industry, strongly regulated by local laws.
The technology was anticipated to lead to a
reduction of the workforce in the industry, as the
literature suggested (Frey and Osborne, 2017).
However, the large scale retirement was seen to ease
the pressure for the reduction.
Technological change was seen eminent: if the
organisation does not adopt new technology, the
continuity of the business is in danger. All
interviewed organisations were at least in the
digitalisation phase (see Lahti and Salminen, 2014).
Some were already proceeded to the next phase, AI
and robotics. The results indicate that this phase
should be divided to two, as many of the interviewed
organisations were already using robotics, but the AI
was still seen as the future. There were no differences
between the public and private sector organisations.
In this study, the innovation diffusion and
UTAUT theories were used as guiding background
theories. Thus, the theories were not tested in this
study per se. However, the usage of the new
technologies in the accounting industry in Finland
seems to follow the innovation diffusion theory.
According to our study, the new technology is
adopted especially by the larger organisations aiming
for growth. As such, they can be categorised as early
adopters. The smaller companies, typically
entrepreneurs, don’t have resources or even eagerness
to adopt new technology. As such, they can be
categorised as a late majority or even laggards. The
reasons for adopting new technologies seems to
follow well the UTAUT model. The new technology
is seen beneficial to organisations: it will make
organisations more productive. Moreover, the social
pressure caused by the competition was clearly
affecting technology adoption.
5.2 Implications
Our study has both scientific and practical
For science, our study provides support for the
innovation diffusion theory and UTAUT: they seem
to explain well how the new technology is adopted in
the accounting industry in Finland. Our findings
indicate that the last development phase (AI and
robotics) by Lahti and Salminen (2014) should be
For practice, our study shows that adopting new
technologies is eminent for survival in the accounting
industry in Finland. Thus, the organisations should
invest in the new technology to increase their
productivity to match the current and future
competition. The loss of routine jobs in the
accounting industry is inevitable. However, the new
technology will create a new kind of jobs, requiring
totally different skillsets. There is also a slight chance
that a global competitor may enter the Finnish
accounting sector in the near future.
5.3 Limitations
The interviewed organisations represented the largest
organisations of the industry in Finland. This has
likely caused some bias to the results. The research
used innovation diffusion and UTAUT theories as
background theories. However, the theories were not
tested in this study.
5.4 Directions for Future Research
The results of this study should be verified in similar
settings in other countries to increase its validity.
Also, studying also the smaller Finnish organisation
might provide interesting evidence about the
accounting industry as a whole.
Another interesting area for future research would
be to properly assess how the innovation diffusion
The Effects of Digitalisation on Accounting Service Companies
and UTAUT theories explain the digitalisation in the
studied industry.
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