Concerns about the increased automation of accountancy tasks and transactional business should not instil fear into accountants despite the impact of artificial intelligence (AI), says Simon Wright, managing director at CareersinAudit.com
The conversation around artificial intelligence (AI) and the impact machine learning and its robotic ilk is likely to have on our future careers is one that sparks uncertainty in most.
The idea that a fundamental role like accounting could become computer generated is daunting, but the reality is this; while it is true that automation is an undeniable factor in professional and industrial evolution, so too is the continuing need for human experience. This is particularly true of the accounting profession.
The reality is that the use of AI is helping to free up accountants’ time by taking over the monotonous task of number-crunching.
Today’s accountants and finance professionals are expected to do far more and amass a greater variety of skills that cover more than just computing data. AI leaves them free to explore the more creative realms of their role and extend their skills in problem solving, advising, strategy, developing and leading.
So though there may be a focus on usurping the repetitive tasks long held by accountants, as for the jobs themselves there need not be any alarm. The robots are here to supplement the human element of accounting, not replace it.
The robots are here to supplement the human element of accounting, not replace it
Indeed, while AI can tackle the data, the human accounting professional will still be relied upon to provide emotional intelligence, excellent communication and, above all, honesty and integrity when imparting advice and making decisions.
There is still an element of mistrust in the governance and ethical side of AI due to a lack of understanding about what is really going on within the mechanism itself, whether in the chatbots installed on websites or smart home technologies like Alexa and Siri we have invited into our lives.
The fast-moving pace of technological advancement means accountants must keep up with emerging trends to remain current and knowledgeable in their field. More than that, take the time to educate yourself on what AI could mean for the accounting industry and bone up on the tools your company’s competitors are using. If you see that there is a quicker, more effective way of doing something, then go ahead and implement it.
This goes for employers too who need to understand where AI fits into their business model and have in place a solid data infrastructure for it to work from. Employers must prepare just as stringently as those working for them. Providing adequate training for your workforce is essential to be able to utilise machine learning and allow it to strengthen their output.
Accountants can rely on the power of machine learning to refine their data-driven insights, and financial and non-financial analysis, however, like all things, machine learning has its limits, including the need for high levels of monitoring for security threats. In an age of increasing cyber threats, equal training must be applied to security best practices in relation to AI in order to safeguard your company data.
REPETITION VERSUS JUDGMENT
As for its primary purpose, AI depends fully on its stable knowledge of the repeated tasks it has been set to do, which makes it perfect for those data-driven elements of accounting. However, its algorithms and processes are only as intuitive as the data it is using.
Areas such as budgeting, governance, strategy, policy-making and change management are considered high value in the context of an accountant’s role, and require that human element that AI cannot quite reach. While employers need to be investing in areas like critical thinking, creativity, empathy and customer satisfaction, it is up to the accountants themselves to play to those strengths and skills.
It is important to demonstrate your ability to be flexible in the constantly changing accounting world and enthusiastic when it comes to furnishing yourself with the technical know-how you need to succeed in working side by side with the machines of the future.
Simon Wright is managing director, CareersinAudit.com