Will AI help or hinder the future of accountancy?

By 2020 it’s expected that accounting tasks, including audit, payroll, tax, and banking, will be full automated but what does this mean for the future of accounting jobs?

From automating time-consuming tasks to analysing data with greater efficiency and accuracy, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is significantly transforming businesses and helping employees to work smarter.

It’s not surprising that investments in AI are growing and it is becoming an increasingly common fixture in the workplace. To varying degrees the technology is already integrated across many industries, especially within the accountancy practice.

Despite the obvious benefits that AI can bring, there is real concern that the technology poses a threat to job roles such as accountants. While the technology may remove the need for accountants to perform traditional services like audits, it won’t replace human accountants or accounting departments completely.  It’s expected that by 2020 accounting tasks, including audits, payroll, tax, banking, will be fully automated with the use of AI-based technologies.

Interestingly, a recent report by McKinsey and Company highlighted that financial services are amongst those leading the charge in digital investment. Perhaps this is due to the nature of their work, where large volumes of data are generated and stored. Advances in machine learning have particular relevance for accountants and it’s important to understand the opportunity that AI presents, as well as the impact on areas such as auditing and expenses.

Working alongside AI

AI has the ability to free accountants from menial tasks, allowing them to focus on more complicated processes.

If we take the auditing of expense claims as an example, it’s easy to see how machine learning software can be used to remember and enforce a company’s expenses policy. This means the days of looking through receipts and identifying dates and VAT numbers are long gone.

Instead AI engines would read receipts and audit expense claims, as well as forwarding abnormalities for human investigation and approval. This ensures that the expense claims reaching accountants are accurate and valid, whilst rejecting those which aren’t – such as claiming two breakfasts on the same day.

With machines carrying out calculations, compliance and verifying information, accountants are able to receive accurate data faster and have confidence that the data is complying with HMRC policies. This relieves the hours spent on administrative drains and frees them up to deliver more value and better services to their clients, as well as focusing on growth and overall business success.

AI won’t lead to accounting job losses

It’s expected that by 2020 accounting tasks, including audits, payroll, tax, and banking will be fully automated with the use of AI-based technologies. So where does this leave the roll of the accountant and how will AI impact the profession?

Automation is certainly freeing people from performing manual checks and increasingly this is allowing in-house accountants to widen their roles.

In some cases, the introduction of expenses technology has allowed companies, which once had three or four people manually processing expenses, to relocate those employees to other valuable areas of the business. Accountants are now able to use the time saved through AI-based technologies to add insight to the information provided and increase value, allowing them to move towards more legislative and compliance-orientated tasks.

It’s this focus on value-added contributions that’s encouraging accountants to work more collaboratively with their business counterparts in departments such as human resources and operations. By translating data into useful information, accountants are able to ensure the correct interpretation of data and actively support decision making.

Increasingly with the mainstream adoption of AI, areas such as duty of care are becoming more accessible and important to accountants. Failure to comply with regulations can lead to financial penalties and because of this we’re seeing accountants take an interest.

Previously the process of checking driving licences could be arduous and involve filling in forms to gain permission to check against DVLA data. Now that process can be completely automated and is built into expenses systems, saving time and money.

How does the future look for the accounting industry?

It’s no secret that technology and smartphones in particular are set to deliver more compelling and personalised experiences.

Gartner research predicts that by 2022, 80 percent of smartphones shipped will have on-device AI capabilities. This change is set to impact accountants and very quickly the industry will see the implementation of optical character recognition (OCR) technology. We’ll also see more intelligence from smartphones when performing functions.

For instance, if an employee is driving, the smartphone might prompt the user to see if they would like to make a claim for their mileage, or auto populate an expense claim by scanning a receipt.

Ultimately, the adoption of AI and machine learning technology has the potential to create greater opportunities than ever before. The pace for adoption isn’t set to slow, so it’s important to look at incorporating automated tools to increase your efficiency.

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