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Friendly robot | accountingweb | How AI can help accountants

How AI could improve your life


With AI here to stay, Philip Fisher looks at the untold benefits it could have for the profession. But while it promises more free time and riches, there are threats to consider too.

11th May 2023
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The last week or two has seen intense media scrutiny of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Considering that the concept has been around for generations, the frenzy seems unwarranted but the topic is worthy of consideration in the context of our profession.

While the terminology may have been different, 10 years ago the powers that be at this partner’s firm wasted hours of our time on lectures explaining that, as a result of computerisation and technological development, we would all be out of a job within five years. They got that wrong.

For centuries, developments of various kinds have changed the nature of accountancy, probably starting with the abacus and then accelerating through comptometers, pocket calculators, mainframe computers that took up a room or even a floor of a building and, reaching top gear more recently, phones, tablets and laptops that would literally have seemed miraculous to past generations.

Brain-numbing drudgery

Our profession requires skills in a number of varied disciplines, some highly creative and enjoyable, others condemning those lower in the pecking order to brain-numbing drudgery. Computers and AI have the ability to remove much of the repetition and thus the drudgery, which is generally a good thing – unless your continued employment relies on such work.

Thanks to technology, accountants have now largely dispensed with typists, and even secretaries who badge themselves as PAs could well be on the way out very soon. Just think, if AI really lives up to the billing, you will soon be instructing a computer to generate a fee letter, a request for information, or even a long thesis trying to persuade a belligerent inspector of taxes that your whizzy avoidance scheme is legal.

It should be able to compose a letter, print it, post it and notify itself when a reminder is due. At the same time as doing all of that, it can book your holiday, since you will have plenty of time available to take it, especially given some of the other prospective changes on the horizon.

Developing the concept a little further, a virtual human might do all of the telephone answering, although judging by efforts to date this could be a bit of a disaster until it is fully refined. Do you really want your clients to get caught in a long, autocratic, automatic loop?

Audit and tax compliance

At the sharp end, much of audit and tax compliance is already largely in the (not) hands of computers but that is only the start.

It would be easy enough to imagine a situation where a client’s computer provides an absolutely full set of records to your own computer, which audits every single transaction, decides whether to approve or qualify accounts and then writes the audit report.

On the tax side, we have gone quite a long way towards automating tax return work but this could go much further, since today’s technology still requires a considerable amount of human input.

In the fullness of time, an AI bot might derive and process the information without any staff intervention, prepare and submit a return that minimises liabilities, and respond to any queries that might come from either its client or HMRC.

Tax planning might also come within the remit. Imagine a powerful computer learning legislation, interpreting it and coming up with tax-planning arrangements that will save your clients millions in a manner that is indisputably legal and acceptable. It might even seek an opinion from a KC-bot to support its contentions.

Personal considerations

Many readers might enjoy carrying out staff appraisals but they always seem to come at a time when you have better things to do. By assessing every action taken by a member of staff using a spycam then reviewing all of their work and summarising it, a computer could either take over the job completely or merely leave the manager/partner a chance to have a brief meeting if they fancy it.

Marketing could also become a doddle with AI selecting targets, generating tailored marketing communications and contacting the client by email, letter or phone, as it deems appropriate, and following up at optimum times until the job has been reeled in. You could also have a dream of a website at the push of a button.

In terms of managing the business more widely, AI programs could eventually offer incredible cost savings by optimising and rationalising the workforce – in other words, cutting out almost anyone who isn’t a computer.

Collaboration might also become much easier, with computers “chatting” with their mates at other firms and tapping into the best new ideas. Indeed, this is supposed to be one of the major advantages that the brave new world of AI offers.

If all of this comes off, our practices will be completely re-engineered, we will have much more free time and could be a great deal richer. What’s not to like? We’ll consider the threats next time…

Replies (5)

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By Hugo Fair
11th May 2023 20:21

When I were but a lad, AI stood for an activity mostly practised on beef-rearing farms (and I believe also in up-market racehorse stud farms although that's outside my experience).

With that thought in mind, I apologise in advance but the next person to approach me claiming that they understand all about the pros & cons of AI ... will be told exactly where (and how) to stick it!

Thanks (3)
Replying to Hugo Fair:
By Catherine Newman
13th May 2023 17:09

Love it Hugo.

AI has completely passed me by but with 1 very new caveat. I think many responses HMRC issue on Facebook, which only crop up every now and again are issued by AI. I have had several calls in the last few days about their refunds as a result.

One went so far to say he was ceasing trading until he had received 2 quarters' worth of VAT as he couldn't afford to pay two people he has engaged or any other creditors.

I told him to contact his MP and gave him a certain email address that I have been given to lodge a complaint.

A client who is a friend and neighbour said to me today if HMRC are in utter shambles, are HMRC just going to try to penalise everybody who [***] up due to HMRC's cockups?

Thanks (1)
Replying to Catherine Newman:
By Silver Birch Accts
16th May 2023 15:22

Agreed, AI is destroying HMRC especially RTI where it making numerous incorrect decisions to suit HMRC. We have two RTI issues where the treatment of submissions is wholly incorrect but no one at HMRC understands what has happened or shows any inclination to learn or find out.

Thanks (2)
By OrmeGoat
16th May 2023 09:54

More pie in the sky from the IT industry.

Thanks (1)
By OrmeGoat
16th May 2023 09:55

More pie in the sky from the IT industry.

Thanks (0)