Rapidly changing technology is causing many businesses to reevaluate the services they provide.  EY is no different. The multinational services firm, which is one of the “Big Four” accounting firms, is striving to be proactive in dealing with the challenges caused by technological advances and outsourcing while also finding ways to help its clients succeed in these evolving times. This introspection also is leading EY to identify the qualities and skills of the employees who will be needed in the future.

A number of EY executives addressed the effect of disruption on the business world in a March 22 presentation to Mays Business School students and faculty.  This presentation was part of Mays’ EY Day, which celebrated the corporation’s recognition as Mays’ 2018 Corporate Partner of the Year.

A positive take on disruption

Outsourcing and rapidly changing technology, including bots and automation, are creating a rapidly shifting business landscape.  “Disruption is everywhere and is influencing everything. For most people, disruption makes everybody uncomfortable because it’s the unknown,” said Anneliese Schumacher, EY’s Southwest Campus recruiting leader. “However, I believe disruption is going to be incredibly positive. You think about the different revolutions – economic, political, social – and they all started with some kind of disruption.”

The rapidly changing business environment has led to seismic changes for EY’s workforce. “Technical advances are upon us and they really have been challenging and are going to continue to challenge our clients and making things more complex,” Schumacher said. “It also is challenging how we at EY work – how we work, where we work, who we hire. So it’s really two-fold – it’s how we can continue to serve our clients and help them navigate some really complex issues that technology and disruptors are bringing and how do we evolve business in terms of managing through this change.”

In many cases, increased use of robotics has restructured what happens during the average work day. “We had a historical model where people would do a lot of manual tax preparation,” said Bill Strait, managing partner of EY’s Houston office. “We now have a lot of that part of our business automated. We have bots that are built in a system to pull all the data that needs to be put together to prepare a tax return. That has eliminated the manual aspect of that job.”

In another example, one of EY’s clients, Microsoft, had one employee who received 300 daily emails related to authorizations for various projects. The technology giant built a robot to handle much of the approval process, thus reducing the number of authorization emails that the employee addresses to a handful. “That employee how has been able to shift and take on projects that were years down the road,” said Mills Bell, senior manager of IT Audit in EY’s advisory practice.

Outsourcing also has emerged as a major disruptor. “It’s really amazing how we are seeing our clients struggle, yet some take advantage in terms of this as well,” Bell said. “We see the amount of outsourcing within the companies shooting through the roof. We have clients with over 30 outsource providers. Why would we build a system internally or create a whole process internally when there’s a third party who’s doing it how we would like to it better than we are doing it anyway?”

The professional of the future

Not surprisingly, all of this disruption is changing what EY is looking for in its workforce. Besides hiring accounting and finance majors, the company is looking at bringing on employees who have other majors to deal with the consequences of disruptive change. Furthermore, EY Foundation Executive Director Ellen Glazerman said the company is striving to tailor jobs so they can match the employee’s desires and talents while also meeting the needs of clients.

EY is focused on encouraging new and current employees to expand their mindset in different ways.

  • “The first is developing an analytics mindset because there are huge amounts of data and we need to figure out how to deal with it,” said Glazerman. “The better the question, the better the answer, and the better the world works. You need to come in and ask the right question of your client and you need to find the right people to figure out how to answer this question.”
  • The second focus is on creating an innovation mindset. “If you’re asking these really hard questions, you’re not going to approach it correctly the first time every time. You’re going to fail,” Glazerman said. “We need people who are okay with failure. They say, ‘I did a risk analysis and decided to approach it this way. This is the outcome and this is what I need to do. Instead of feeling bad (about failing), I’m going to get up and do it a different way.”
  • The third mindset involves a global focus based on diverse teams whose members come at a problem from a variety of approaches. Glazerman encouraged Mays students to find ways to work on these teams “in a way that you’re bring out the best in all people on your team.”
  • EY also is emphasizing continuous learning for all of its employees, especially since current data predicts that current college seniors will have held 10-14 jobs by the time they reach the age of 38. “Learning and development is huge,” Schumacher said. “We have an incredible workforce. We don’t make a product. We don’t produce a widget, but we have our people. There’s a lot of brainpower in those EY offices. And we’re not going to let that talent go. We’re going to be investing in upskilling that talent so they have the necessary tools and skills to be productive and really serve our clients in an exceptional way over the next five to 20 years.”

Great opportunities for Gen Z employees

These disruptive changes and the jobs that are being created in their wake mean more opportunities exist for people who are just starting their careers. “While some of the more administrative or remote work will go away, the opportunity (exists now) for entry-level hires to start on Day 1 with having more meaningful relationships with your teams and your clients and being more well-rounded business advisors because you’re spending more time with those human interactions and being more consultative and really having more time to engage in thoughtful strategy,” Schumacher said.

Generation Z also brings a number of positive attributes to the workforce because they have experience with disruptors such as Uber, Apple, Netflix, and Amazon. “This generation is so prepared for what is coming and what is already here as far as disruption,” Schumacher said. “You’ve had the most practice exercising those skills of agility, adaptability, and flexibility. Just think about how many apps you have downloaded and updated or the different social platforms you use. These things are constantly being integrated into your lives on a daily basis.”

Generation Z’s extensive experience with disruptive technology also may result in young employees getting a seat at the table during high-level discussions. “Some of our entry-level people are being brought along to client meetings (on robotics),” said Cassie Johnson ’14, a risk advisory senior at EY. “You guys have a lot more agility (with technology and thinking about what next). People just starting out are adding a lot of value.”

Maintaining EY’s focus

Despite all of the economic fallout caused by disruption, EY’s executives stress that the company’s focus remains the same. “We’ve always been a people business and we always will be a people business, even if the tedious work goes to robotics or artificial intelligence,” Schumacher said. “At the end of the day, we’re sitting across from our clients. We still are having those personal interactions and frankly, I think it’s more important now more than ever to have those interactions with our clients, teams, and recruits.”