Rapid developments in artificial intelligence (AI) have promised endless benefits for accountants and bookkeepers but have also led to uncertainty about how the profession can harness the power of these new tools.
In a recent webinar, FreeAgent’s Tony Stevenson FCA (Senior Digital Enablement Manager) and Craig Clarke (Director of Product) chatted to Jordan Vickery from the Digital Accountancy Show to discuss their thoughts on how AI is set to impact the accounting and bookkeeping industry. Here are a few of the key takeaways.
AI: the next wave of technological evolution
AI is certainly having a moment in the collective consciousness. Since the launch of ChatGPT in March 2023, there’s been a huge surge in interest in how AI will transform the working world. But it’s important to recognise that this recent development is part of a technological evolution that we’ve been experiencing for several decades.
Throughout history, humans have been looking at ways to improve the efficiency of repetitive processes. Tools such as ChatGPT and Bard are the next wave of that evolution, and while we may well be crossing a new and exciting threshold, it’s worth remembering that the concept of using tools and systems to automate tasks is already widespread and AI is the next phase of this development.
Developments in AI will place greater importance on human skills
Our panellists agreed that AI will soon exceed our capacity to complete repetitive tasks and processes, especially in areas such as reporting and content generation.
While that could sound like a threat to some, it frees businesses to focus on the human aspects of their work that a machine can’t replicate.
“The promise of AI is that it will lift the burden of mundane, repetitive activity away from us to leave more capacity, context and care to tackle the challenges only the human condition can master.” - Craig Clarke
Skills such as empathy, innovation, imagination and collaboration will carry a higher value and there will be a greater focus on relationship building, both internally and externally. Levels of trust with clients will become a key differentiating factor between competitors, as opposed to the speed or scale of service delivery.
Accountants and bookkeepers should therefore consider AI as another string to their bow rather than something that is taking away from their roles. It should be used to expedite time-consuming and repetitive tasks so that practices can focus on building stronger relationships with their clients.
Marketing is a great way to dip your toe into the AI pool
For those who are keen to experiment with incorporating AI into their practice, Jordan Vickery suggests starting with tools to enhance their marketing. When used in the right way, AI tools can accelerate and streamline creative workflow, allowing practices to do more in less time.
“Using AI is not about replacing humans in content creation, but about accelerating the creation process.” - Jordan Vickery
Jordan suggests starting with ChatGPT and using basic prompts to create social media content or blog posts. Using tools to up your content output will increase your chances of reaching new prospects and attracting new clients to your firm.
Once you’ve got to grips with the basics, you can then ‘train’ the tool to write in your style and with your clients in mind. The key to this is prompting effectively. Below Jordan explains how this can be done in practice:
Another use for AI that Jordan highlighted is the repurposing of video. OpusClip and Munch are AI-powered tools that can analyse the content of a video or webinar and create snippets that can be shared on your website or across social media. While an element of human checking is still required, it can save you time in manually sifting through the content and accelerate the production process.
It’s still mind over matter
The panel were in agreement that we shouldn’t take everything AI tells us as gospel. A large language model like ChatGPT can produce a very confident answer that appears credible, but it’s important to remember that its answers are based on a large amount of data which isn’t always accurate.
AI’s outputs still need to be checked and interrogated by human minds and we should always maintain an inquisitive mindset in validating the output from AI.
Jordan also highlighted that using ChatGPT to churn out generic blogs and social media posts runs the risk of adding even more valueless content to an already large pile. Instead, be mindful of how you’re using the tool and ensure that you’re really moving your business forward rather than just creating content because you can.
Predictions for the future
AI has and will continue to develop incredibly quickly. It might not be something we are wholly aware of, just as electric cars, mobile touch screens and contactless payments gradually became part of everyday life. But there’s no denying that AI will have an impact on how we live and work day-to-day.
To manage the effects of this change, we’re likely to see increased governance come into play for certain industries, and accounting and finance are expected to be among the more regulated domains. The concept of responsibility will become core to participation, and the question of who - or what - is ultimately accountable in decision-making will be a key point of discussion.
AI will provide more immediate access to a broader range of data and facilitate progress in decision-making. But it will likely be the humans in the equation who remain the trusted points of responsibility in a regulated space and ultimately have the final say.
To find out more about accountancy trends for 2024 (including AI), register for our upcoming webinar. You’ll even earn a CPD point.