Faced with increasing regulation and high demands from clients, accounting firms and financial institutions are turning to a new kind of workforce to support some of their most time-consuming duties.
This new supply of support is being called upon by some of the top tax and accounting companies and can sort through information, understand requests and support with increasingly complex tasks without demanding a monthly wage. That is because this new workforce is not human, but artificial.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a resource that is beginning to be introduced to assist with book keeping, compliance and data analysis. Many predictions see AI freeing workers in the financial and accounting sectors of drudgery and taking on the most time-consuming tasks. In the distant future, intelligent systems are likely to take on more complex tasks and will be capable of making decisions.
While this takeover may sound alarming to some, it’s worth remembering that while technological advances have eliminated jobs throughout history, they have created others. A recent report from Deloitte highlighted that in the UK alone, technology helped to create 3.5 million new jobs between 2001 and 2015, even while it contributed to the loss of 800,000 other jobs. While there are tasks that AI can handle better than humans, it will never replace human intelligence.
AI implementation in accounting and financial services has just begun. It is already making a significant impact in the back office, but its potential is far more wide-ranging. At present, capabilities classified as AI include natural language processing used in chatbots and digital personal assistants, machine learning used for data classification and analysis.
According to the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), AI technology will help the profession by solving three broad problems: providing better and cheaper data to support decision-making; generating new insights from data analysis; and freeing up time to focus on more valuable tasks such as decision-making, strategy development, relationship building and leadership.
These possibilities are revolutionary. AI has the power to transform the provision of accounting and financial services, but it must be adopted where it’s needed most. The industry should be open to new possibilities and focus on the business problems it helps its customers solve in order to assess where AI will add most value.
Meanwhile, leaders in these professions must focus on the areas where human judgement, relationship building, adaptability and insight are irreplaceable. This will help them to see where they should be supported, and which menial tasks AI can take off their hands.
By focusing on these areas these professions can move towards a promising future where humans are free to focus on the most valuable tasks, aided and enabled by intelligent machines.
Today, automation is one form of AI that is benefitting an increasing number of accounts payable departments.