What artificial intelligence means for accountants

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Receipt Bank’s The Accountant's Guide to Artificial Intelligence white paper, explains the potential impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its importance for accountants.

AI is no longer a futuristic concept and it is already having a practical impact on accountants. AI and machine learning are replacing the most basic accounting tasks. Particularly, machines are able to provide superior analysis and data outputs for accountants to work with.

The trend is necessitated by the era of big data: accountants have access to large amounts of data but don't have the time to analyse it. It creates the opportunity for AI to do this data analysis instead. AI will bring improved data processing and machine learning will take away a huge amount of process-driven work from accountants.

This will lead towards “invisible accounting”: AI will extract the slog and inefficiency out of bookkeeping, data entry and the analysis of large data samples to deliver faster and more accurate results.

This will be complemented by machine learning, which will optimise accountancy systems, helping businesses to stay compliant and saving time by automating tasks. Although it will replace repetitive work, a common fear is to think about what will happen to accountants when AI becomes the norm. This question was discussed last year on this Any Answers thread initiated by AccountingWEB member GR.

According to Receipt Bank, it is true that machine learning will replace some low-level bookkeeping roles because it is more accurate than humans at processing data, the change should not be dreaded. Technology brings new opportunities to add value, which gives accountants an opportunity to augment their capabilities and services.

Human professionals add value to their firms and clients in ways that AI cannot. For instance, they can train new accountants and provide higher-level advisory work. As AI liberates accountants from data processing work, they will have more time to focus on the advisory side of accounting. They will be able to deepen working relationships with clients and deliver a more human kind of business advice.

This approach has already been taken by firms such as the 2017 Practice Excellence-shortlisted firm inniAcounts in the pioneer and innovative firm categories, which applies machine learning to automate and build a knowledge hub for its clients.

The key challenge for the profession will be to strike a balance between letting AI take care of the basic accounting elements so human accountants can focus on the tasks they do better than computers.

As Receipt Bank Co-Founder Michael Wood explained at Accountex last May, AI is already all around us: “The software products you are using today are already embedded with AI,” he said, “but a lot more is possible”.

Accounting software providers are well aware of this fact and they keep on studying new ways of introducing AI in their services. Intuit is using machine learning to discover patterns across its customer base to improve the categorisation of transactions.

Xero is also introducing AI that learns the invoice coding behaviours of its customers. Similarly, Sage is expanding its range of cloud products with a focus on automation moving towards an “invisible accounting” as the developer announced earlier this year.

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By Maslins
13th Sep 2017 12:11

"For instance, they can train new accountants and..."
The above baffles me. Most of the article talks about how AI will replace the lower skill accounting stuff first. I agree, but in reality that surely means fewer trainee roles. What are the trainees going to do all day if there aren't bank recs etc for them to learn the ropes?

I tweeted a couple of months ago that I feel like I have a choice with my practice. I either employ and train up staff, or I move with the times, and do without them. It's a sad choice to be making. Thank goodness I'm not young (I'm 35).

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