How accountants can approach the rise of AI in their industry

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It’s increasingly clear that certain industries — including accounting and finance — are most susceptible to the impacts of artificial intelligence.

A report from NPR found that:

  • Bookkeepers have a 97.6 percent chance of seeing their jobs automated.
  • Accountants and auditors have a 93.5 percent chance of seeing their jobs automated.
  • Financial analysts have a 23.3 percent chance of seeing their jobs automated.

At a high level, these statistics break down what we are anecdotally seeing with our own customers and what seems to be the trend in other heavily analytics based roles. Jobs that are made up of repeatable, systematic tasks will be automated while those that require judgement, analysis and people skills will be safe.

Tech innovations in this industry already include bookkeeping apps, tax software, auditing automation, and platforms that generate financial projections and visualized data. Add blockchain technology into the mix, and the race to automation for financial institutions, auditing and anti-fraud work is upon us. According to technology blogger Andrew Marder, the ability to have information displayed in a more robust and organized way that tells a story for users means “better decisions and less reliance on someone else to tell you what’s working and what isn't.”

What accountants can (and should) do

That said, having better data visualization means little if one can’t understand or act on it. This is why the human element is so important to maintain in relation to these tools. Even in a world where bots are relied on to do an initial audit or set of calculations, someone will ultimately have to be responsible for checking the work and drawing meaningful conclusions.

Accountants should expect to move into a more dynamic consulting and advising space to make sure they take advantage of automation and AI, while building a better business model for their firms. This can be achieved in a number of ways, but most accountants can start by carving out more time for analysis and meaningful reporting and recommendations to help their clients succeed in business.

A future of empowerment, not replacement

Approaching AI as a tool, rather than a threat, is the best way to situate oneself in the accounting space with this trend. Even if accountants move into using AI on a daily basis, clients want to hear personal recommendations from someone who knows them and understands where they are holistically and where they want to go. In many ways, AI can do the legwork, the mundane stuff. Real business growth requires strategy, and the ability to question and pivot if necessary. AI may never be able to provide something that complex and intuitive. Accountants can stand out by spotting anomalies in people that AI might miss. A client’s financial, numbers-based profile might tell 90 percent of the story, but not all of it—and that last 10 percent could point to something significant. The bottom line is that AI cannot listen to clients. Only the human advisor can do that. Listening to a client's goals, wishes, hopes, dreams, fears, worries, etc., is what sets a human advisor apart from a bot. And those goals, wishes and fears are the seeds of advisory.

Ultimately, the relationship between AI and accountants can be looked at as an opportunity. For accountants, shifting towards a strategic advising role ensures they offer greater value and more meaningful relationships with their clients as we continue to move into an AI-supported industry. While tech may ultimately replace the need for manual calculations, accountants can take these fruits of AI and inject a level of strategic analysis that wouldn’t otherwise be available to the client.

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Artificial intelligence Automation