What accountants need to know about AI

Artificial intelligence (AI) will dramatically change the accounting profession. Historically, our biggest challenges related to skills shortages and succession planning. While those challenges remain, AI adds another dimension: how do we transition ourselves and our staff from compliance-focused accountants into proactive, entrepreneurial business advisors?

Not all change needs to be feared. AI will also bring many advantages to accounting professionals and consultancies. We just need to know how to prepare for them.

But first, what is AI?

Getting to grips with AI can be intimidating. At its most basic, AI is software that allows computers to perform tasks and generate insights that previously could only be done by humans. It’s going to impact every business in every industry, with the biggest impact happening in data management.

With AI, information will flow automatically between accountants and stakeholders, and will make it easier to interpret, analyse, and report on data. Empowered with new information, accountants will no longer be number-crunchers; they’ll be able to provide business-changing advice to their clients.

Essentially, AI will automate repetitive and mundane tasks. Think of it as outsourcing lower-level jobs to technology.

But understanding AI is one thing; implementing it in your consultancy is an entirely different matter. As with the adoption of any new technology, there will be side-effects. Here are a few that we are already witnessing in the industry: 

Change is already underway 

We already use AI and machine learning in our everyday lives. Most of the time, we don’t notice it, because it’s become natural. Soon, these trends will feel just as natural in the accounting profession:

  • Chatbots and virtual customer support – AI is already being used in business to perform administrative tasks, like booking appointments, answering phone calls, and reading emails and text messages. Soon, it will be the norm for a bot to assist your customers.
  • Auditing – By being able to validate and analyse data in near real-time, the auditing process is now faster and more streamlined. Analytical testing that used to take a human hours to complete can now be done in minutes using AI – and with fewer errors. Think of what you could do with all those extra hours.
  • Tax compliance – Imagine having an army of bots who can complete clients’ tax returns – accurately, and at a fraction of the time it would normally take you. With time savings come cost and capacity savings that can be channelled back into your business.

Action plan

Don’t worry if AI still sounds complicated and unachievable to you. It’s ok to be cautious of new technology but you shouldn’t avoid it – not when everyone else is embracing it. Rather, commit to starting small and starting slowly – you have total control over the implementation of AI in your business.

Here are five steps to get you started:

  • Step one: Don’t wait until you have no choice but to implement AI, unless you want to be left behind and made redundant. Start today and take small steps forward every day. Slow and steady wins the race.
  • Step two: Don’t fear failure. Try something different and give it your all, like implementing an AI project within one team, in one department. If it doesn’t work out, chalk it up to experience and try something else. Commit to success and it will happen.
  • Step three: The tools that have served you well until today will not likely serve you in future. Once you accept this, it’s easier to adopt new technologies sooner.
  • Step four: Develop your softer, non-technical business skills – they’ll become crucial in your shift from accounting practitioner to business advisor and partner.
  • Step five: Celebrate small wins, like your decision to experiment with AI in your consultancy. Treat each success and setback as a learning and apply it in the pursuit of your next goal.

The world is changing quickly. We can’t wait for technology to come to us because, by then, it might be too late. We need to nurture our ability to adapt to change and move with the times if we want to stay relevant.

By embracing AI, we’ll be rewarded with the time and capacity to develop our knowledge and skills that will make the transition from accountant to advisor smoother.