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Accounting is the latest industry facing the impacts of the use of artificial intelligence (AI).

Whilst certainly not a totally new area for accounting, the recent advancements in the accuracy and speed of AI are ensuring that the reality is that in the very near future it’s expected that accounting tasks, including audits, payroll, tax and banking will be fully automated.

The use of AI-based technologies will disrupt the accounting field in such a way not seen for the last five hundred years, since the introduction of double entry bookkeeping, bringing big opportunities and serious challenges as well.

Indeed, Bill Gates has referred to the rise of artificial intelligence as the Holy Grail and for the accounting industry, given its heavy reliance on vast amounts of data, it is an ideal candidate for automation as AI can offer time savings, minimised costs, boosted productivity and most importantly better accuracy as it can offer greater speed, accuracy and volume capability when compared to its human counterparts.

For many, the big question will be if AI will lead to job losses and fears of robots taking all the jobs. However, for those that work in accounting although AI will automate part of the job, it isn’t going to replace humans any time soon. In fact, as AI advances further it won’t eliminate accountants but actually enable them. Indeed, through saving time and eliminating more burdensome tasks, accountants will find it easier than ever to please their clients.

When you remove the high levels of tedious manual work and are supported by AI to think and analyse, the role of accountant increases in importance to clients. This has already been seen with the advancements of cloud accounting where through receipt scanning tools and software that’s connected to bank feeds, you can gain access to a live ledger that immediately improves insights and advice that can be offered to clients at a level of accuracy that supersedes any human efforts.

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However, AI does not yet replicate human intelligence and cannot act as advisors on, for example, tax planning nor can they independently stay ahead of the game where complicated regulations and compliance issues are concerned.

AI is best seen as complementing rather than competition, allowing the humans to be free to offer the emotional intelligence that is required to deal with clients directly; assessing their problems and choosing solutions.

AI has the potential to help accountants cement their relevance and value, as long as they are willing to move forward, with the right attitude and attain the skills necessary. Indeed, a recent global study of 3,000 accountants, carried out by Sage, found that 83% were being asked by their clients to extend their services. For example, 42% expected accountants to provide consultancy and advice. As a result, accountants are trying to free up time by carrying out other tasks more efficiently. Indeed, the recent global study by Sage highlights that 50% of the 3,000 accountants surveyed are looking to AI and automation technology to free up their time to meet higher customer demands.

One of the biggest areas of accounting that AI is being used more and more is auditing, with a number of people saying that we may not need audits in the future, if we can access automatically validated information.

One of the biggest areas of accounting that AI is being used more and more is auditing, with a number of people saying that we may not need audits in the future, if we can access automatically validated information.

2017 saw several of the largest global accountancy firms receive hefty fines from the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) for drastic malpractice with regard to auditing on a number of high profile accounts including Rolls Royce and BT. As a consequence, the auditing sector is seeing strong levels of AI being introduced to their practices to assess large volumes of data and generate new insights into anomalies faster and more efficiently than conventional auditors, saving large firms from further embarrassment and liability in the future.

One thing is very clear accountants will want and need to be ready and able to use the full force of AI to maximise the opportunities it offers including the potential to solve problems that couldn’t be solved before or they will be left behind and unable to provide the levels of service that clients are demanding.