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AI for everyone, including accountants

Most accountants probably don’t dream of becoming artificial intelligence experts. But the truth is that every accountant can now benefit from AI in their practice — even those who don’t know the first thing about software engineering, data science or Python code. With today’s off-the-shelf AI solutions, accountants can work smarter and deliver better service to their clients.

Traditionally, implementing AI has required a level of knowledge and resources that are beyond the reach of most accounting firms. Whether it’s selecting an AI platform, creating algorithms or training the AI, getting up and running with AI has always demanded a high level of technical acumen.

But this is changing — accounting professionals today no longer need to be tech geniuses to take advantage of AI. Big Four accounting firm EY, for instance, is now teaching algorithms to think like an auditor and detect fraudulent activity among hundreds of millions of entries.

AI implementation in finance

Many cloud-based software applications commonly used by accountants are also leveraging a certain degree of AI. For example, Expensify now has an AI-powered audit and compliance tool that automatically reviews employee expense receipts for errors and policy compliance, flagging questionable expenses for further scrutiny.

Additionally, there is accounting software that can automatically capture and enter all the required data from any type of invoice and start the bill-creation process as soon as the invoice hits your inbox.

The AI-driven app will keep track of the vendor name, invoice number, due date and amount due. It will even complete all the categorization in your general ledger with no human assistance. Plus, the AI will get smarter the more you use it, so ultimately the only point at which you’ll need to step in is to review and approve the process. That means you can focus on more strategic tasks that accelerate business growth.

There are also off-the-shelf AI tools like H2O.ai that are helping to democratize intelligence for everyone. These tools can be especially helpful to accountants because they are already sitting on a treasure trove of data that includes customer databases, CRM leads and financial models. This data is typically spread across various silos, but with a good AI tool, accountants can meld all this information into a single data lake.

This is not a revolutionary concept. But what is new is that you can now buy a third-party AI and machine-learning platform and use it with relative ease to glean insights into your business — without having to write a single line of code. The AI platform does all the heavy lifting for you.

So what does this mean if you’re an accounting professional? It means you can more easily drive insights and get the data you need to make the best decisions. Say you want to know who your best bookkeepers are and who are not so good. You can quickly pull the data to see who has the highest error rates versus who is most efficient and gain valuable insight as to how your business is operating.

Here’s another interesting use: As an accountant, you want to be in a position to provide insights to your clients. Your clients want to know how the economy will hold up, what sectors are growing, if they should grow their business right now or if the market is overheated. All of these tasks are eminently doable with data science. You can look across the portfolios of your various clients and see how they’re doing, compare what you see Oo other macroeconomic data points, and start making the sort of forecasts and predictions that are invaluable to your clients.

Accountants can also use AI to determine who their best clients are, who requires a lot of hand-holding and who are on a fixed-priced retainer costing you money. Going a step further, AI can illuminate the common attributes of those suboptimal clients and warn you when a potential new client has the same attributes.

AI is no longer the stuff of science fiction; it's here and here for everyone. In fact, AI is critical to the future of the accounting industry. Take bookkeeping, for example. Accounting organizations are having a hard time finding and hiring bookkeepers in this economy of low unemployment. AI can automate much of the bookkeeper’s data-entry work. This means people who are now doing that lower-level work can move up a rung and start to provide more strategic analysis.

The beauty of AI for accounting firms is that it can take those manual-entry jobs and transform them into client-facing assets that deliver key insights. These people might not have an accounting degree, but they can still deliver data-driven insights by using AI tools.

"How am I doing on cash flow this month?" "Anything I should be worried about next month?" "Where will I be at the end of the quarter?" These are all insights that can be extracted with the help of AI tools. Accounting firms can even use AI to create forecasting models for their clients and really set themselves apart from the competition. For example, say a client wants to open a second location. AI can dive into your aggregated client data and start to run different scenarios for the client to determine whether a second location is feasible and, if so, where the best spot is to open that new location.

If I’m an accountant using AI tools, I can implement a risk and fraud model for all my new customers. I can figure out if they’re a good risk or not and whether I should auto-approve them or ask for more information. From a risk-reduction perspective, an AI tool can be transformative.

The bottom line is that intelligence is being democratized. That means it’s easier than ever to get started with AI and drive real value for your business.

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