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Will artificial intelligence (AI) lead to Accounting Innovation?

Posted 6 years ago in Advisors by Colin Timmis
Posted by Colin Timmis

These days Artificial intelligence (AI) is an extremely topical subject. From the conversation surrounding it, we can define AI as “a future without humans”.

Certain elements of pop culture take this to a terribly literal extreme. The Terminator franchise is a prime example of this, where machines actively attempt to wipe out humanity. Most of the time though, the AI dialogue is about software and computers taking on work that’s usually done by humans. Driverless cars will replace drivers, robots that can lay a thousand bricks in an hour will replace manual labourers and automated menu kiosks will replace waiters.

AI may well lead to job insecurity in some professions, but if you’re an accountant, you shouldn’t worry too much. Though technology can automate part of your role, it isn’t going to replace you any time soon. In fact, through saving time and eliminating more burdensome tasks, accountants will find it easier than ever to please their clients.

Why accountants are safe from AI

In all the talk about how technology will change everything, we sometimes lose sight of what it’s already fundamentally altered. Look at cloud accounting. Through receipt scanning tools and software that’s connected to bank feeds, you can gain access to a live ledger that immediately improves your insights and your advice to clients.

This isn’t strictly AI, of course, but it does provide a window into how the profession has changed recently. Crucially, these professionals aren’t digging their heels in. They’re broadly welcoming this change, even if they don’t always fully understand it. Xero’s South African State of Accounts report revealed that 80% of accountants believe technology plays a critical role in their job. The results of the survey also revealed that, 15% of accountants aren’t always aware of the latest technological innovations. However 22% find AI intriguing and 18% declared their interest in the possibilities offered by machine learning.

If AI was actually going to take accountants’ jobs, you’d expect accountants to more worried. Instead, many are embracing the very real possibilities offered by technology. And when you look at what the possibilities are for accountants and the accounting profession, it’s not surprising.

Rise of the machines

Machine learning, for example, provides great opportunities to develop high integrity accounting. Essentially, high integrity accounting is data untouched by human hands. This could potentially eliminate data entry and coding entirely – freeing up time to focus on strategic and advisory tasks.

But if these AI efficiencies become more sophisticated, they should also have transformative effects on the South African Economy. The 2016 Institute for Management Development’s World Competitiveness Yearbook found that SA ranked 52 out of 61 nations for productivity. If AI contributes to a high-performing economy, small businesses will make more money – and have more need of accountants.

Indeed, as this technology develops further, it becomes increasingly clear that it won’t eliminate accountants, but empower them. Stripped of tedious manual work and emboldened to think and analyse, their role – and their importance to their client businesses – will only grow more important.

For more information about the impact of AI on the accounting industry, download Xero’s State of Accounts report today.  

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