At a glance
In 2017, Joao Moreira ASA was a language-loving would-be pilot who was one successful interview away from becoming a teacher in rural New South Wales.
A few short years on, he is a finance transformation specialist with BlueScope Steel, regarded as one of the country’s brightest young minds in the field of robotics and artificial intelligence for accounting.
On the surface, this appears quite the leap, but, peeling back the layers of the multi-faceted Moreira, you get a sense of how it all came about.
“I’d be lying if I said I wanted to be an accountant,” says the 27-year-old Wollongong-based Moreira. “When I was a kid, I wanted to be a pilot, but my eyesight wasn’t the best, so it never came to fruition.”
With little idea about what field of study to pursue, Moreira embarked upon “two of the broadest degrees I could do” – commerce and arts – where he’d mix history, literature and Spanish with marketing and finance.
While many of his contemporaries played it straight with purely business-orientated degrees, Moreira loved the duality that interpretation and critical thinking provided alongside the comparative structure of commerce.
He got to study in Spain, completed his degrees at the University of Wollongong, and then took up a role as a finance officer with his alma mater in 2016. However, his future was still very much up in the air, until the “sliding doors” moment arrived the following year.
Moreira applied for a specialised teaching role with non-profit organisation Teach for Australia, only to, in his own words, “completely bomb the interview”. He did substantially better when he applied for a graduate accountancy position with BlueScope Steel and was offered a role at the company’s Port Kembla headquarters in July 2017.
Even then it took time for him to find his feet. In his first year, he had a theory-heavy management reporting role, before moving into a more business and partner-focused position supporting engineers and management in costing projects. About a year into that role, he started to find a passion for automation and robotics.
“It was a big lightbulb moment,” he says. “I fell in love with really using the technology to better the work that I was doing for myself, for my team and the business.” Supported by a management team that allowed him to push his capabilities, Moreira began to thrive.
It also helped that he was allowed to fail in a safe and supportive environment. While building one of his early bots to automate two hours of accounting work, he used incorrect figures, which he said put material consumption at BlueScope out by thousands of tonnes. If not picked up, this would have been a million-dollar technical mistake.
“I feel like, if I was reprimanded at that moment, it might have potentially hindered me from trying to do this more and more. I think having that support around me was really great. Being with a company that is OK with taking these risks and challenging the status quo … that, for me, was a big eye-opener.”
Moreira has since developed several bots to automate costings for the company’s enterprise resource planning system, journal entry process and invoice generation. With applications for the technology extending beyond everyday accounting – and given Moreira’s broad background – it is perhaps unsurprising that he is heavily involved in working on the bots’ other uses as well.
One recent bot he has been working on sifts through the NSW Health website for new COVID-19 alerts to notify management of cases in postcodes around Wollongong, so staff can, in turn, be updated. Then, there’s the bot for “isolation cross-checking”, which monitors isolation points when the plant needs to be shut down for maintenance. Currently a task undertaken by four engineers over two long workdays, Moreira is attempting to have this automated to save costs, reduce human error and get the highly trained staff doing more efficient work for their area of the business.
Eye on the future
While his day job keeps him busy, Moreira also volunteers as a non-executive director at Tender Funerals Australia, a company looking to disrupt the industry with more affordable funerals. He is also looking to gain his CPA qualification in 2022 and eventually envisages completing a masters degree in artificial intelligence.
Moreira sees the future of accounting involving increased use of robotics, as more and more mundane tasks are automated, freeing up time for accountants to add value.
“I think we are going to see a shift from historical reporting to business partnering and actually being able to help the businesses we work for make better decisions,” he says.
To get to that point, it is important to allow accountants to, occasionally, fail.
“I think accountants are really naturally scared of failure, or at least the concept of it.
One piece of advice
“My advice would be to invest in your capability, learn new things and embrace change. I don’t think you can really grow unless you can learn from your mistakes.”