Brace for Impact
Tech entrepreneur Mark Cuban stated in recent years that artificial intelligence (AI) will dominate the landscape of the business world, so much so that entire industries could be relegated to near obsolescence.
One such industry he mentioned happens to be near and dear to our hearts: the 7,000-year-old accounting industry. After taking a few deep pulls from my handy hyperventilation bag, it got me thinking: is that truly possible? Far be it from me to spit in the face of the “experts,” but the accounting industry as a viable employment option will most decidedly not be disappearing any time soon. Will AI change our industry? Undoubtedly, and with great benefit to us and our clients, assuming we allow it.
AI has already entered our space in numerous manifestations, freeing up accountants at all levels to engage clients better and offer the expert advice we are hired to dispense. Here are some ways the accounting industry has benefitted and will continue to benefit from AI:
Easy access to financial information – most, if not all, accounting systems now have the ability to integrate data from various financial institutions and products, both historical and real-time. This allows for up-to-the-minute reporting, benefiting management and internal/external accounting staff in decision-making and forecasting. As Matt Bontrager, founder of Bookkeeping Blueprint writes in Entrepreneur, “…analyzing historical data, industry benchmarks and market trends, AI-powered systems can offer tailored recommendations and insights based on a business’s specific goals and objectives.”
Security – you know those texts you get from your bank when there is “suspicious activity?” That’s AI working for you. Our systems now have the tools to analyze patterns and red-flag irregularities. Incorporating AI systems into accounting software has dramatically enhanced fraud detection at the personal and business level, giving accountants another tool to protect the integrity of their financial information. Rather than going line-by-line through a general ledger and losing our minds in the process, we can utilize the tools AI provides to seek out oddities that may save a company some severe distress.
Improved audit efficiency – looking at the first two items above, it’s not a long leap to see that AI also benefits the auditing side of the accounting industry. Being able to set parameters and quickly search through a data set for anomalies has reduced time spent on various audit procedures compared to audits of years past. Similarly, having access to real-time client financial data allows for more efficient procedures around subsequent events (e.g., disbursements and receipts subsequent to year-end). In an article for becker.com, Jim Eicher noted, “As a result of big data and streamlined auditing, accountants are able to execute predictive and prescriptive financial analytics for their clients, which can make their clients’ financial processes more efficient, accurate and profitable. Centralized access to vast amounts of data previously dispersed across individual spreadsheets, PCs, mainframes and servers will promote faster, more efficient client audits.”
This small sample of how AI can assist accountants in their roles should inject at least a small dose of confidence in the sustainability of the accounting industry. AI should not be considered a monster coming to destroy our livelihoods; it should be viewed as a tool to make ourselves more valuable to our clients than we ever have. It’s already dramatically impacted our daily routines, even going unnoticed as we weave through newly implemented software or hidden in an update.
Accountants, however, can’t just sit back and let AI do all the work. We will need to study and understand the assistance it can provide. Resources abound related to AI. Whether taking one of the many AI-related CPE courses available or simply researching and garnering the knowledge on your own, it behooves accountants long-term to dive into this new world headfirst and learn how to harness its power.
Before long, if not already, the client will expect their accountant to offer advice and guidance related to AI tools that can benefit their business. Advancements in AI will most certainly lead to the more mundane and monotonous bookkeeping tasks being automated. As a result, greater opportunities will open for those in the industry to develop their soft skills developing strategies and truly advise their clients.
Cuban’s prediction of AI dramatically changing the business world’s landscape appears very much on point. However, where this takes respective industries remains to be seen. History has proven time and again that the future is nothing if not unpredictable, and only that change will be a constant. How this all plays out long-term will be determined later. Still, with some willingness to adapt and learn the capabilities AI offers our industry, we can continue to help our clients and ourselves sustain continued success for the foreseeable future.