Is AI going to take my job?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is growing in prominence across many industries including accounting and finance. Amanda Masuku explores just how it might impact on the sector in the coming years and what that might mean for peoples' careers.
The digitisation of our society has produced more and more data and AI’s ability to dissect and analyse huge amounts of that data, much faster than any human, has elevated its importance.
AI cannot only act without human input; it can also draw conclusions from large amounts of data fed into it. This feature is especially useful in industries where numbers and data are at the focus of the business such as accounting and finance.
The accounting industry has always preferred the perceived reliability of humans for data processing and similar tasks, but AI has opened up a whole new approach to these jobs.
Although AI has the power to completely revolutionize accounting and finance, there is an ongoing debate on whether it should be allowed to do so. Despite the obvious benefits that AI can bring, there is increasing concern that the technology poses a threat to accountants and their jobs.
Benefits of AI – improved operations
From the automation of time-consuming tasks to analysing data with greater efficiency and accuracy, AI can help employees work smarter.
For example, Smacc, a German-based software company, uses AI to help freelancers and small to medium-sized companies automate their accounting systems and financial reporting.
It is expected that by 2022 a number of accounting tasks such as payroll, banking, and tax will be fully automated, with most major accounting software companies such as Sage and Xero already offering the ability to automate data entry.
By taking over day-to-day repetitive tasks, AI will allow finance managers to spend more time on higher-level tasks. As the consultant company Accenture said in its ‘Meet the Finance 2020 workforce’, machines and AI can complement human capability:
“This steady influx of intelligent machines into the finance workforce will not overrun humans, but there is a tipping point for finance jobs on the horizon. As routine tasks become automated, finance professionals will be freed up to focus on more judgment-intensive activities. Some jobs will disappear, others will transform, and new roles will emerge”
With this in mind, finance professionals will need to refine and refresh their skills and be taught how to use AI to their advantage.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) around 25.9% of chartered and certified accountants in England are at risk of losing their jobs to automation and almost half (48.2%) of finance officer roles are also at risk of automation in the future. Additionally, more than half (58%) of financial administrative roles are at risk.
However, as is happening in other industries, rather than seeing this as an impending Armageddon, this should be seen as an opportunity to enable accountancy professionals to adopt a more creative mindset.
The automation of more menial tasks will create an opportunity for accountants to invest in their advisory skill, providing real value to their clients.
Accountancy bodies such as ICAS have expressed the view that accountants should be learning how to work alongside AI. Doing so may even act as a propeller for the advancement of their careers.
Assist in decision-making
While humans have advanced capabilities in decision-making, we also have our limits. The introduction of AI will help employees with their decision-making, not eliminate them entirely.
In the past when spreadsheets were introduced there was an expectation they would dramatically reduce the need of accountants. However, it enabled them to help clients make better decisions.
Even though accountants will see their roles evolve into something quite different, AI will allow them to assist their clients better.
Limits of AI
AI algorithms and processes are only as intuitive as the data they are using. If the data input is incomplete, insufficient or riddled with mistakes then the data produced by the systems will reflect this.
Not every task is appropriate for AI just yet. While the potential is endless, the realities of the processes only allow it to perform tasks with a degree of repeatability. This is because it allows the AI platform to recognise patterns and apply them accordingly. The outputs of AI platforms are predictive suggestive which makes them unsuitable for some tasks.
AI is here to stay – how can we work together?
The future of accounting will no doubt be shaped in some manner by AI.
Automation is no longer a far-off concept, it is happening now. It is a must for accountants who want to remain relevant. Businesses of all sizes should be searching for accountants who have leveraged technology and automation and are becoming more specialised in their fields.
This is one of a series of articles from our Commercial partners. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of ICAS.