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How accountants can survive the robot revolution

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8th Mar 2017
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The rise of machine learning and AI has forced advisers to consider how they will remain relevant. But in order to beat the forthcoming exponential growth of this tech trend, advisers will have to alter the way they interact with their clients.

Apple founder Steve Jobs once said: “The most inefficient animals on the planet are humans. But a human with a bicycle becomes the most efficient animal.” This quote laid the basis for the ‘forming deep relationships with your clients in a digital age’ workshop at the QuickBooks Connect conference on Monday.

The end of the profession?

Not a day goes by it seems without an article or new research announcing the death of a profession. Tech website Wired was the latest to opine how the rapid growth of machine learning and AI could soon subsume the accountancy profession.

So the session, hosted by QuickBooks’ business development manager Alex Davis, proved a timely addition to the debate. Driven by the 'Firm of the Future' formula, Davis adapted the aforementioned Steve Jobs quote to urge accountants to “find their bicycle”.

“The most inefficient animals on the planet are humans. But a human with a bicycle becomes the most efficient animal.”

Those articles signalling the end of the profession are based on unequivocal facts. As Davis explained, corporate spending on AI and machine learning will increase to $47bn, up from £8bn last year. The potential of AI is also readily available: digital assistants Siri and Cortana are at the fingertips of every smartphone user. Meanwhile the Parkinson’s voice initiative is using a machine learning speech algorithm to diagnose whether someone is suffering from Parkinson’s through their voice patterns.

Form deep relationships

“If you’re trying to beat this software with high volume, repetitive and predictable tasks – you will lose,” Davis warned. However, many feared the introduction of ATMs would spell the end for bank clerks, but the number actually doubled. And they’re not dispensing cash, but giving advice.

“If you’re trying to beat this software with high volume, repetitive and predictable tasks – you will lose,”

This is where accountants can outwit Siri or Alexa. “Can [machine learning and AI] share relevant information? Can they offer advice without context? Can they offer advice relating to a personal context?” questioned Davis.

Davis highlighted the flaws of automated devices through challenging Apple’s Siri with a series of questions. At first the AI device coped well with fact-based questions like ‘what is the weather forecast?’. But when Davis asked more granular, specific questions such as whether he could have a BBQ tonight, Siri totally missed the point – it spewed a list of unrelated Google search results.

Show value

Instead, advisers should guide their clients with specific examples and situations, rather than just dismissing their fears – the steps needed to become a trusted adviser. To do this, Davis encouraged accountants to use the Today, Tomorrow, Risks and Rewards (TTRR) framework to demonstrate value and understand.

Davis presented the table below as a prompt when having those conversations with clients:

Today

Tomorrow

Risks

Rewards

“Tell me what you currently do…”

 

“What problems does this cause”

“What are you currently trying to achieve?”

 

“What are your plans for this?”

“What things will get in the way?”

 

“What happens if you don’t make the change?”

“What could you do differently”

The TTRR conversation is designed to lead the client through their needs and wants, then to arrive at a solution.

In comparison, Davis tested AI's ability to comprehend a specific issue to see how Siri and its cohorts could help a typical client overcome their personal fear. He asked Siri “how will my business be affected by Brexit”. Of course, Siri could not provide a personal and relevant response (and confused Brexit for ‘Brecks it’).

Davis ended the session with a wake up call to any adviser who is not customer focussed. “If all you were going to do was point to facts on the internet, Siri could do that." 

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By Vaughan Blake1
10th Mar 2017 11:40

Reminds me of the time many years ago when I worked for a national firm. A client asked a fairly straightforward tech question. The manager copied a section into the reply from the firm's tax guide book. Unfortunately, the client had a copy of the book and had already read that bit! For some reason he seemed reluctant to pay the resulting bill for the advice!

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