Recent and upcoming graduates of accounting programs should anticipate exciting changes in the accounting industry regarding artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. AI is shaking up the world of business and commerce and revitalizing nearly every field. Of course, any disruptive technology causes some reasonable fear among professionals of becoming outmoded by machines.
However, even though AI brings the prospect of intelligent virtual accountants, the accounting industry is largely optimistic that AI has the potential to enable CPAs and accounting professionals to find more career opportunities and to work smarter, not harder. AI is already delivering the tools to help well-trained accountants deliver more value to clients and firms, and we are only at the emerging stage of AI's development.
The Big Four Are at the Forefront of AI Investment
Deloitte has been developing cognitive-technology-enhanced business solutions for clients and automating the process of reviewing and extracting document information. Ernst & Young has applied AI to the analysis of contracts and uses AI in drone technology to monitor inventory during auditing. PwC developed an AI system to analyze documents and prepare reports, and it has made significant investments in natural language processing. KPMG has worked with IBM and Microsoft to develop tools to integrate AI, data analytics, and cognitive technologies into its auditing services.
Professionals are also using AI to produce substantial return on investment already and raise expectations for all other accounting firms. The American Institute of CPAs president and CEO, Barry Melancon, says that one of the Big Four accounting firms uses robots in its tax practice with a productivity gain of about 40%. According to Sage's Practice of Now report, 58% of accountants agree that AI will help improve their firm in the future.
AI Expands Human Potential and Maximizes Productivity
A revolution that will benefit professionals and their clients is achievable when talented minds have freedom to reach their potential and are not saddled with monotonous tasks. By automating monotone tasks with AI, accountants can devote their resources mindfully and creatively. They can synthesize their training and experience to analyze AI-compiled data and extract real value through insights and business intelligence. Or, they can work more closely with corporate and individual clients, taking time to understand their needs and deliver customized solutions.
The following are just some of the ways that AI is already beginning to affect the future of accounting:
Automated Accountants and Bookkeepers: According to Accenture, just 34% of finance tasks are automated, yet about 60-80% of historical accounting activity can be automated. AI is ideal for compiling and sorting through massive amounts of data and increasing accuracy and efficiency as it works. Robo-accounting and AI algorithms are expected to replace 40% of work in auditing, payroll, uploading files, accounts payable and receivable, inventory control, and other accounting functions.
Invisible Accounting: In its current evolution, AI is already exceptional at continuously gathering, sorting, and visualizing data to discover new paths to financial and business efficiency. Large corporations use it to reduce financial fraud and minimize human errors or anomalies such as duplicate invoices. It can detect correlations or links between payments and known risks and assign expenses correctly so that companies do not pay out for items unnecessarily. All of this is essential for compliance as regulations become more complex. While it works, firms can deploy their human resources in ways that strategically drive the business forward.
Deriving Actionable Insights: As AI technology continues to improve, the analytic capabilities provided by machines will quickly outpace what human analysts presently do. This has implications for improving operations and workflow, optimizing data systems, and outputting actionable insights that executives can use to make smarter business decisions (while factoring internal and external data).
Robotic Process Automation: RPA describes how repetitive document analysis and processing tasks are handled quickly en masse. Intelligent automation (IA) enables unattended software to replace human agents to communicate basic information. In addition, technology can now infer meaning during conversations. Such capabilities are enhanced by the Internet of Things (IoT), which are interconnected devices that track and transmit information in an AI/ML environment.
The AI revolution in accounting is fueling demand for new types of accountants. As a result, accounting professionals prepared to harness the power of AI in data analytics or to focus on developing client relationships are in high demand. The Emporia State University Master of Business Administration (MBA) with Accounting Concentration online program, as well as the Master of Accountancy online program, both incorporate the latest expectations for how AI will transform the industry and prepares graduates for the future.
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