Guest editorial by Simon Kearsley, chief executive officer at cloud-based accountancy software bluQube

AI: an opportunity not a threat for accounting professionals

The age of AI is undoubtedly upon us, and the role of accountants looks set to shift. In our survey of business leaders, nearly a third (32%) said finance and accounting are set to be transformed by AI. According to the research, many leaders anticipate AI will take over many of the repetitive administrative tasks currently handled by accountants and internal finance teams.

But rather than replacing them, AI can empower accountants, providing them with greater efficiency and deeper insights. Interestingly, finance and accounting are some of the most trusted business functions for AI to carry out, with 63% of business leaders saying they’d trust it the most.

However, concerns do remain. Some fear AI will deskill accountants by stripping away a significant proportion of their work, while others worry it may replace human workers entirely. If, like me, your understanding of AI was shaped through science fiction and the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, you can perfectly understand why fears of a dystopian future are an acceptable response.

But the bigger picture is bright. AI will bring change, but change need not mean extinction.

For many accounting professionals, technology is already a key part of their operations. Most accountants use finance software to manage their financial transactions, create invoices, track expenses, and generate financial reports. Some more sophisticated systems include automated processes such as optical character recognition (OCR) to automate invoicing. For those accountants already familiar with technology, introducing AI into their systems feels like the next logical step.

The potential benefits of AI

The role of the accountant will undoubtedly change with technology. It will enable professionals to take on an increasingly advisory-based role as the technology can handle much of the daily number crunching. In a similar way to how the cloud revolutionised the finance software market, AI has the potential to deliver game-changing benefits. When combined with the cloud, AI can help users remain more informed and agile, helping them to spot problems and opportunities sooner without having to be at the coalface.

One of the key benefits of AI in accounting is its ability to automate processes. Whilst some accountants will be familiar with automation, AI can speed up processes even more and with greater accuracy. By leveraging machine learning algorithms, AI can categorise expenses, reconcile accounts, and detect anomalies, swiftly and effectively. This enables professionals to focus their time on higher-value activities.

AI’s data analysis can also identify trends, patterns, and potential risks. Through predictive analysis, accountants can anticipate financial outcomes so they can mitigate any potential risks.

Ultimately, the integration of AI into accounting enables finance professionals to make more strategic data-driven decisions which can maximise revenue and value.

The importance of the human touch

Within the accounting and finance profession, our research suggests that business leaders’ opinions may be influenced by their current perception of AI’s capabilities. For example, those that believe AI in its current form is a standalone technology, with the ability to work in place of human intelligence, also tend to believe that it will deskill or replace the finance professional.

However, among the 29% of businesses that have already utilised AI within finance, 67% have recognised its value for data filtering and analysis, such as audit analytics and expense reports.

Evidently, AI has its purpose within accounting: data entry and processing. But what should not be underestimated is the importance of the human touch in finance.  

Beyond AI algorithms and automation, accountants bring invaluable qualities like empathy and critical thinking. These capabilities simply can’t be produced by technology. In finance, human connections and trust are invaluable. The open communication and collaboration that comes from human intelligence, ensures that finance teams are making the right decisions for their business. This personalised approach would not be possible if accountants were entirely digital.

Considering this, AI in accountancy is all about balance. For meaningful decisions and insights to be made, businesses can’t rest entirely on technology. AI systems are supportive tools for the existing team to take advantage of to make their day-to-day easier. 

Looking to the future

We’re entering a new era of intelligence. While we’re by no means close to realising the full potential and capability of AI (and that’s understandably where much hesitation stems from) the accountants that remain abreast of developments and open to possibilities will be better equipped to remain competitive. One thing is for sure, we stand at a point in time where great change is unstoppably rushing towards us. Some will adapt and thrive; others will get left behind and will learn difficult lessons. Future shock is with us once again and, my is it exciting.

Related news: 95% of claims handlers in US and UK insurers are embracing technology

Image: bluQube

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Guest Editorial
This article was produced specially for Fintech Intel by an expert guest contributor.