Artificial intelligence is on a fast track to peak-hype status. We hear millions of jobs are threatened, that accountants will be cast aside by armies of robots, and that customers’ "machines" will do the heavy lifting that make up a good portion of billable hours today.

The reality couldn't be further from the truth. While the benefits of AI to everyday productivity and efficiency are extreme, the real upside will be a new era of business success.

Responding to client expectations

With technology driving quicker and better service in our day-to-day lives, clients are coming to expect the same level of heightened service from their professional services. Across the board, client expectations around attention to detail, insights derived, and counsel offered are rising. Responding to this challenge, and delivering a service that meets and exceeds expectations, is only made possible by embracing AI.

Previously accountants were forced to spend valuable time and resources manually assembling information and data. This work chews up resources, often requiring hundreds of hours, while being low yield. The client is often interested in a single number or insight that takes minutes to deliver, compared to the days or weeks it can take to source.

That information can now be organized by AI instead and in many cases doesn’t even require a click of a button to access. Natural language processing means accountants can simply open an app on their phone, ask a question, and have the information they need on the spot.

Putting time saved to good use

This is often where concerns about job losses are raised. Yet this argument overlooks the other side of rising client expectations—the appetite for new services and expertise. Accountants are now able to use the time saved through AI to add insight and advice to the information provided, increasing value to the client.

They are also able to dedicate resources freed up by technology to develop their offering. This can involve branching out into new areas, such as advisory, other new skills that better prepare them for success.

This has obvious advantages for accountants and their firms. Diversifying reduces risk and offers a competitive edge over others, while creating a unique offer in the battle for talent.

At the same time, additional services and a reduced cost to serve clients contribute to the bottom line. New offerings based on data, insights and new skills often attract premium prices, as clients seek to gain the upper hand, and gain the most from the relationship with their accountant.

Shift from reactiveness to readiness

One new value proposition is getting businesses in their best possible shape. Much of the traditional accountant’s role has been to provide ongoing support to a business. They’ve often been compared to a life partner, always with you to help tackle challenges and seize opportunities.

But with AI, accountants can do more than respond and advise. They can move beyond event-based tasks such as audits, tax filings and day-to-day business management to help ensure clients are ready for any event, expected or unexpected.

In a financial transaction such as IPOs, M&A, borrowing funds, strategic reviews or restructuring, accountants play an integral role. However, their role has been largely reactive, helping clients navigate the transaction in real time.

Now, accountants can use AI to benchmark, track and improve their client’s business before a transaction commences. They can identify how ready a business is for a financial deal, where its weaknesses are, and how to address them. More than this, they can use this information to ensure a client is in the best possible state whether a deal is imminent or not, helping them make better decisions and operate more efficiently.

This AI-powered ability takes the essence of accountants, the reliable number cruncher responsible for keeping businesses running smoothly, and applies it to an always on business model fit for the future.

Managing clients, not just their needs

Of course, while better insights, more efficient work and new services are likely to attract and expand clients, managing them becomes an even greater challenge.

Again, AI can be the answer. In the same way as it helps create insights for clients, it can also be used to provide insights for accountants into the clients themselves. Platforms are increasingly used to consolidate and display this information, providing the information to not only manage clients, but also identify which need attention, which are implementing your recommendations, and which require additional services.

AI technology is already having a fundamental impact on the accounting industry, and those who adopt it will enjoy a significant competitive advantage. It is clear, and will become increasingly so, that these technologies won’t eliminate accountants, but empower them. The real question now is who will seize the opportunity, and who will be left behind.