By: Bruce Orcutt, ABBYY
Accountancy is an area in business where organizations can immediately feel AI’s impact. Using the right artificial intelligence-enabling systems would amp your processes like having an entire department working 24 hours a day at lightning speed, producing near-perfect results. This is a massive opportunity for accounting departments to embrace.
The core draw for using AI in accounting is all the data held in accounting systems and invoices. Accountants can make use of faster and more reliable analysis, freeing them up from mundane activities and enabling them to offer better intelligence-based services to clients. AI is not a far-away technology. There are several examples that illustrate how accountants can leverage AI in their everyday activities.
Automation & Accuracy
Removing some of the more time-consuming, process-driven and mundane tasks reduce errors and allow accountants to focus on high priority projects. A typical example is reviewing and processing an expense claim. Accounting firms that take advantage of AI-enabling technologies, where content from expense reports, no matter the format submitted, are automatically extracted and populated into appropriate systems and databases, can analyze significant amounts of data quicker. Accountants can deliver more analysis and insight to clients when they require it.
For those working within in-house positions or bookkeepers, the use of AI will lead to greater efficiency in the accounts team. Managers can have visibility when invoices arrive, regardless of the format, and have them queued for immediate processing. They will also have more control over the approval cycle, with the intelligence of captured invoice data, and automatically direct invoices to the right approver. Moreover, managers can make better decisions with the use of graphical dashboards, providing practitioners with a real-time look at staff productivity, invoice status, the source of exceptions, accruals and liabilities, KPIs, enterprise spending and many other crucial metrics.
If anywhere accountants wished they could use AI, it’s in forecasting. Accountants need to understand how the market is changing so they can prepare their organization, and shift in their role and responsibilities. While not quite a “crystal ball,” being able to work with and understand data will be a vital part of the future accountant’s role.
A focus on higher-value activity will be a catalyst for accountants moving into more prominent positions within businesses, whether as in-house professionals or trusted external partners. Accountants will move from producing forecasts via their own modelling techniques to contextualizing AI-produced forecasts for their clients and providing strategic advice. The development of AI represents an opportunity for accountants to become more engaged in the overall financial health of their clients and have a bigger focus on relationship building.
AI’s biggest allure is using data to make suggestions to help the human decision-maker, but it’s the human who ultimately has to decide what to recommend. For example, with machine learning technology, you could program a digital accountant with rules that flag anomalies and respond to them in prescribed ways. While machines can crunch the numbers, people need to be in place to monitor activity and put the ‘human brakes’ on, particularly as self-learning systems begin to make higher level judgement calls. This can act as a safeguard against poor decisions made on the basis of AI alone. Accountants who display a high level of emotional intelligence – and can demonstrate how they have applied this successfully – are most likely to succeed alongside artificial intelligence.
Organizations that fail to adapt AI will face greater competition from newer, tech-savvy firms that are better able to meet the new requirements of clients. Clients want a more hands-on, strategic approach with accounting firms acting as business partners and advisors who will focus on the analysis of financial data, not just the capturing of it. AI will continue to enhance the services that accountants can provide, and those that don’t adopt AI and automation risk extinction.
The hype around AI is reaching a peak and we’re starting to see its impact in the profession. Over the next two years we’ll see the honing of commercial applications of AI to accounting, then products will begin to mature and become commonplace in all accounting practices. Within five years, AI will be assisting accountants with most day-to-day analysis, forecasting andbookkeeping, freeing them up to focus on higher-value add activities. Ultimately, this will allow organizations to unlock untapped sources of revenue while optimizing their cost base.
About the Author
Bruce Orcutt is the Senior Vice President of Product Marketing at ABBYY, a global provider of content intelligence solutions and services. Bruce has a deep understanding of image capture, document imaging, mobile platforms, text analytics, and content extraction, and how to integrate those technologies to deliver a world-class experience for customers and users.