The science of accounting is centuries old, but today's AI and automation technologies are challenging it. Here are the benefits of combining accounting, AI and automation to find a balance between human brainpower and modern technology.
Machine learning is being consistently built into the technologies that humans rely on for sending and receiving information, and the future of artificial intelligence (AI) is built upon the presumption that "smart" machines will continue to reduce the need for human labor. AI is not only software that can draw conclusions from large quantities of data and adjust its activities based on those conclusions, but it's also a system that can learn quickly in real time and be applied to an entire organization.
With this in mind, I believe that the myriad mathematical demands that currently rest on business accountants are what put the profession at a disproportionately high risk of supplementation and replacement by AI. The difference between leading a financial services team toward new, technological opportunities – or obsolescence – is in the strategic focus of leadership.
Accountants are already finding it hard to bill for traditional services like data entry or an audit, these services can easily be done by software to save clients time and money. The extra bandwidth created can and should be used to find ways to add more value elsewhere. By offering more holistic financial consulting, accountants can continue to improve their bookkeeping accuracy and accessibility while also diversifying what they offer to clients.
"We're quickly approaching an era of 'no-code accounting' – truly zero data entry," Blake Oliver, editor of Cloud Accounting Weekly, writes. "We're already seeing cloud accounting platforms move beyond transaction automation and into analysis. Machine learning [can] give accounting professionals unprecedented insights into their client base."
Oliver explains that in the case of a traditional bookkeeper, the employee's general job function is transitioning into "information systems manager." This is someone with knowledge of decentralized, digital accounting, and the expertise to build systems around a constantly evolving ecosystem of new applications. In other words, an information systems manager exists to help their clients feel understood and in control of both their data and cash flow.
And while machines are working on data entry and organization, accountants are free to seek more proactive business endeavors. This could involve ensuring their clients are ready for big financial transactions such as IPOs, M&A, borrowing funds, strategic reviews or restructuring. Accountants are often navigating the transaction in real time but now, accountants can use AI to benchmark, track and improve clients' businesses before a transaction commences.
Currently, there remain many elements of the financial services sector that AI can't replace, at least partially because humans continue to prefer working with other humans, rather than robots. A 2017 study from consulting firm Accenture found that even with the advent of robo advisers, 68 percent of their clients preferred having access to both a human adviser and a robo adviser, despite their relatively equal performance predicting the market.
The takeaway from these findings? By supporting smart accountants with smart technology – and using the extra margin of time to diversify your services – you can fortify confidence in your client’s financial horizon and gain insights into the sustainable growth of your own business.