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Breaking down the Budget: Will custom GPTs change how accounting firms communicate?

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Developments in generative artificial intelligence could see accounting firms build customised systems based on Treasury documentation to summarise future fiscal events and answer sector-specific questions from clients and staff. Will 2024 be the year of the BudgetGPT?

29th Nov 2023
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For many accounting firms, the aftermath of fiscal events such as Budgets or Autumn Statements is a flurry of activity. 

Once the Chancellor has sat down after delivering their speech, tax professionals the length and breadth of the country scurry off to scour the small print in the documentation and discover what the changes actually mean for their clients – with the result of these labours often appearing the next morning in the form of emails, reports and perhaps even a tax table mouse mat or two.

But could these fiscal follow-ups soon be joined, or even replaced, by a Budget bot that can churn out unique content relevant to different sectors, companies or individuals, and allow internal staff or clients to ask questions about the changes?

According to two accounting industry insiders, developments in the fast-moving world of generative artificial intelligence (AI) could make this a reality as early as the next Budget.

Hello BudgetGPT

Earlier this month, and before its much-publicised senior management meltdown, ChatGPT parent company OpenAI opened up the ability to create custom versions of ChatGPT known as GPTs

These GPTs (and others currently being developed by Microsoft, Google and other AI rivals) leverage the power of the large language model but can be tailored to focus on one specific task within a closed system. 

As a trial on his own OpenAI account Alastair Wilson, a tax partner at top 10 firm Azets, used this new capability to create a BudgetGPT. 

Wilson set up a GPT within his ChatGPT account, uploaded the documentation released by the Treasury on Autumn Statement day (the Green Book, costings and so on) to create a knowledge base, gave it a tone of voice (friendly or professional, long or short answers), and specifically told the system not to hallucinate (make up answers if it wasn’t sure).

He then interrogated the GPT to verify the accuracy of its answers and check how it was responding to the types of questions clients or junior members of staff might ask. 

“In every single case it was spot on,” said Wilson. “For example, I asked it to summarise the changes for R&D-intensive businesses. I was impressed with the response because it didn’t just think about the answer from a tax perspective – it also went through things like grant funding and the British Business Bank’s Future Fund extension, and talked about things like full expensing in the context of R&D-intensive companies.

“Tax practitioners on Budget Day have reams of documents to sift through and pick out what’s relevant to their clients,” he added. “In simple terms, this can do a lot of that heavy lifting for you.

“If the Chancellor sits down at 1.30pm having delivered the Budget, you could have a summary ready to publish on your firm’s website by 2pm, or a chatbot embedded on your site ready to answer clients’ questions. If you want a PowerPoint for a presentation on the event you can ask it to create one, or it can put the results in an Excel document with the bar chart. 

“I’d be amazed if they weren’t being used by a good number of firms at the next Budget, perhaps with their own additional commentary to add some differentiation,” concluded Wilson.

A world of AI possibilities

Celso Pinto, founder and CEO of practice management software Pixie, had a similar experience on Autumn Statement day. A team member had the idea of using a GPT to summarise the changes and ask it questions for internal purposes.

While the copy produced by the experimental system came across as somewhat synthesised, it produced accurate results. Pinto believes GPTs will have an increasingly large part to play in the accounting landscape – and not just for standalone fiscal events.

“For a closed, secure ecosystem there are plenty of other applications,” he said. “I could see it deployed in accounting firms for things like training materials, for example. This will give more power to junior staff – it will allow them to access the source material and provide context and information that seniors may not have the time to provide.

“Also, take a list of your clients based on the fees they pay and your last contact with them, add that to your custom GPT and it can produce 10 clients you should get in touch with. It’s not that you can’t already do this with a spreadsheet – it’s just quicker, in natural language and potentially more accessible to others in your firm.”

For Pinto, the advancement of such tools also represents a shift in the balance of power when it comes to who can use technology.

“These tools are really powerful, partly because they don’t take a lot to build,” he said. “Beforehand it required a lot of technical knowledge to construct and populate these systems. Now you can just set it up, add the documents and interrogate it – anyone can create a GPT, drop in documents and then query it. They don’t have to come from vendors, instead, it’s straight from the source.”

To access OpenAI’s GPT functionality, at the time of writing, you need to be a paid ChatGPT subscriber.

Replies (7)

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By Mark Lee
30th Nov 2023 06:00

This strikes me as really exciting - and risky too. Some will no doubt disagree.

There will be some accountants, unfamiliar with how one can 'train' GPTs to 'speak' in your own style and of all the checks we need to make that it has not 'hallucinated' (made things up in a misguided attempt to be helpful).

Others will be stuck in their ways. In days gone by perhaps they would also have resisted the move to electronic calculators and then to spreadsheets.

The risks I see are more to do with the way that some naive accountants may try to short cut the process . For example they may be tempted to send out unchecked budget summaries and advice.

This would be much the same as allowing a junior member of staff to create and send out such material unchecked.

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Replying to bookmarklee:
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By johnjenkins
30th Nov 2023 10:21

Mark, I understand your enthusiasm however AI is not and will not be the way forward. It will have a place somewhere, of that there is no doubt. I don't know anybody that resisted the move to anything electronic. In fact when spreadsheets were first introduced we thought they were brilliant and I still do.
It's this attitude that old is bad and new is good is the problem and I'm afraid, Mark, you and many others have fallen into that trap.

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Replying to johnjenkins:
Tornado
By Tornado
30th Nov 2023 10:56

My thoughts exactly, speaking as one of the first Accountants in the Country to use desktop computers for Book-Keeping, Word Processing and Accounts Production in 1983.

Technology is a tool that we use as and when it is the best solution, not because it is the latest trend or just someone else's "Brilliant" idea that they think we should all be using.

An interesting example of this is that I have not filed Accounts at Companies House on paper for perhaps over a decade now, always online, but I note that some larger firms still file on paper and indeed the 31st December 2021 Accounts of SIFT Ltd seem to have been filed on paper.

This is not a criticism of anyone but just a good example of people making choices as to what is best for them to achieve the required results, which may or may not include the 'latest' technology options.

This applies very much to the failed MTD project. The real emphasis should be on allowing people to make their own choices as to how they want to manage their businesses (guided by Accountants and other professions) and NOT be mandated to spend time and money trying to use technology that they neither understand nor care about, just to provide HMRC with pointless information.

For the last 40 years, I have used technology that has been an asset at times and right pain at others when it has not provided the best solution for the task in hand.

Technology is just a tool for tackling a task, but it can never be the ultimate answer to everything, particularly NOT AI

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Replying to Tornado:
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By johnjenkins
30th Nov 2023 11:32

My sister worked for the Civil Aviation Authority and I'm pretty sure she showed me spreadsheets in 1980. I thought "wow".

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By SuperAccountingSteve
30th Nov 2023 08:55

I wouldnt like to pay an accountant or solicitor, for technical queries, knowing he or she has just got a program to answer my questions. I would feel a fool.

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By Duggimon
30th Nov 2023 09:58

The issue with GPTs is that to anyone who's read much of their output, it is very clear it's written by a GPT. Type any general technical question about Windows into google and find 20 websites on the first couple of pages all written by GPTs, they all sound the same.

If someone I engage with professionally sent me a response written by a GPT that I recognised as such I would be really rather annoyed by that, I think the impact on our relationship might be severe, depending on context. If I wanted a GPT answer to my question I would get it myself.

Multiply that by how many clients you have and consider whether it's worth the risk. I don't think it is until the output is more sophisticated, unless it's in a context in which you can tell the client up front the content is either GPT generated or GPT assisted.

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By Jdopus
30th Nov 2023 13:34

I can only speak for myself , but my problem with this is that if I were to use it, I would be training myself to bypass and outsource the most important part of my job as an accountant, comprehending the rules I'm advising people on.

Our job is not just about being able to recite the correct answer to a query or question, it's about understanding the logic underpinning why that answer is correct or how that underlying logic interacts with other parts of the tax system. You cannot be a professional adviser by outsourcing your professional understanding to a software package.

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