Fluidly's partnership with three of the top 10 accounting firms signals a shift in how the profession is approaching AI in their service offerings.
At Accountex last month, Fluidly’s founder Caroline Plumb announced that the automated forecasting software is working with Baldwins, BDO and Mazars, in addition to the software’s new automated cashflow forecasting functionality.
As Plumb’s Accountex session on demystifying machine learning and AI indicated, accountants intrigue about what AI could bring to their practice is palpable.
For a while, though, the AI conversation in the profession has been imprecise. The woolly ‘robots are coming’ discussions have outweighed granular discussions about how AI would actually enhance an accountant's day-to-day job.
What this Fluidly partnership suggests is we’ve pushed past the hifalutin chat and that practices are now starting to embrace AI in their service offerings.
It is no wonder AI has become part of the accounting vernacular as software firms have unveiled their latest AI enabled gizmo in main event slots during their conferences, with Unit4’s digital assistant Wanda being the latest to tread the AI catwalk.
A Sage report earlier this year further supported the idea that the profession has embraced AI. Half the 3,000 accountants surveyed expected to use AI in the next three years to reduce time-consuming tasks.
Because AI is an umbrella term Plumb believes that any reservations from accountants in embracing this tech was because they couldn’t see a “specific use around a painpoint” they have.
“I think people are always more interested in the ‘what’ rather than the ‘how’,” Plumb told AccountingWEB. “I think AI is really an enabling technology. It's how it makes work better, faster, cheaper, and more accurate - there are lots of benefits to it. Ultimately, it’s the ability for AI to deliver new things like outputs that are getting accountants interested.
“Accountants can now see what it can do for them. We are starting to see capability enhancement and new activities being developed which aren't as scary as the robots are going to take my job-type worries.”
For Fluidly, the specific problem machine learning solves in its Accountex update is cashflow management. The ability to produce automated cashflow forecasts, Plumb said, will enable accountants to unlock advisory services.
It’s something that impressed Mazars’ managing partner Margaret Laidlaw: “The combination of artificial and human intelligence enhances our relationship with clients,” she said.
For Stephen Kühn, the head of Baldwins Software Solutions, it’s the technology's ability to provide their accountants with data. “Our accountants are armed with valuable insight without spending hours configuring or creating reports,” he noted.
Over the last year, Baldwins has flexed its Big Four ambitions with a slew of acquisitions, bringing its revenue in excess of £320m. The Cogital Group company has deployed this trend to increase its geographical spreads, as seen with its recent acquisition of Scottish firm Sinclair Scott.
Baldwins' AI adoption indicates how integral AI can be for firms with scaling ambitions. AI is enabling firms with a growing client base to embrace the advisory trend, noted Plumb.
“It's not scalable when you got one individual monitoring it and seeing what happens,” she said.
“AI allows you to deliver it at scale across a whole client base in a way that actually is going to work rather than having to build models every time. So you get the power of the adoption using AI because it is more useful rather than using AI for its own sake.”
Below Caroline Plumb discusses how AI can help accountants in a recent Accountex panel hosted by AccountingWEB's business editor Francois Badenhorst.
About Richard Hattersley
Richard is AccountingWEB's practice correspondent. If you have any comments or suggestions for us get in touch.