Artificial intelligence and accountantsPublished on 20th June 2019
The thought of being replaced by a robot is no longer a science fiction trope. It is already happening across manufacturing, and now it is coming to accountancy. But is that good news or bad, and what will it mean for the future of your practice?
The robots are coming
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been the goal of computer science pioneers since the early 1950s. In the 21st Century, with dramatic advances in software and a corresponding decrease in the cost of the hardware to run it, AI has started to become a practical proposition. It has already insinuated itself into our lives with smart home networks and applications, and voice-based assistants like Alexa and Siri.
But what can it do for you as an accountant?
The ICAEW has already started exploring the use of artificial intelligence to improve services for its members. The body believes that AI could deliver exciting opportunities for accountants in the short term and, in the long term, change the profession in its entirety. They suggest that AI provide outputs that can be extremely accurate, replacing and superseding human efforts.
Google believes that robots will achieve human intelligence levels by 2029, and Gartner estimates that 33% of all occupations will be using robots by 2025.
But it may not be quite the devastating revolution some are predicting, and it should certainly not see you and your skills replaced by a machine. It is more likely to be the next step in a process that has already started, and which will deliver some substantial benefits.
As an accountant, you have been using computer technology for many years to eliminate the drudgery and improve results. Properly used, AI can help you take this process to the next level, and you and your practice will reap the rewards in increased productivity and even increased job satisfaction.
Working alongside AI
To understand why, remember that artificial intelligence is not, in human terms, intelligent at all. Its strengths and ability come from dogged perseverance and a tireless capacity for crunching numbers.
The key to harnessing AI is, therefore, to realise that robots will help you avoid repetitive tasks and free you to use your real skills. Basic office automation has already taken away the ledgers and the paperwork. Now, AI applications are helping to make better use of the information already being provided by the basic apps and bookkeeping software. By automating and streamlining bookkeeping tasks, the new AIs will present the figures that used to take hours of work and analysis at the touch of a button.
It could mean cutting the time it takes to prepare basic returns - and it could also be happening very soon. Cloud-based accounting software packages such as QuickBooks for Accountants are already automated, capable of delivering a wide range of reports, and automating tasks such as the preparation and submission of VAT directly to HMRC.
They save your valuable time - but instead of simply dealing with the data they are given, this type of system can flag up anomalies and help you catch and address clients’ common errors before submission. It means, for example, that AI can perform the tedious manual VAT check, leaving you free to get on with more productive work.
Giving you the time to focus on your real work
The thing to focus on when considering the impact of AI is to remember that, as a professional accountant, you do much more than keep track of receipts and provide basic reports. You act as a consultant who can advise on tax planning, discuss operations, review client goals and suggest solutions to business and revenue issues - the type of creative thinking that will remain out of reach of even the most sophisticated AI for many years yet.
There are many things that the AI will not do. Understanding the real world is one obvious example. The human impact of rapid change in client industries and the growth of regulation means that your human services will be necessary to ensure that compliance requirements are met and financial controls are sound.
Human input will still be the main benefit of your accountancy business. The rise of the robot is simply an opportunity to reimagine and radically improve the quality of business and investment decisions – which is the ultimate purpose of the profession.
In future, you can allow your AI to tackle the data, do the basic number crunching and find and flag up anomalies.
The human members of the profession will then interpret those findings and to use them to answer the needs of clients. Creativity, the ability to recognise opportunities and challenges, and to suggest the right way to deal with them, will still be vital. So will be the ability to communicate and, above all, provide experience, honesty and integrity when imparting advice and making decisions.
The robots are coming - but they are going to support the human side of accounting, not replace it.
If you are considering harnessing AI systems, you might want to find out about the funding solutions that could help you put them to work in your practice. Call us at Rangewell for the answers you need.
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