AI in Accounting – Embracing a Brave New World!

Well…it’s all but HERE! For those of you who were hoping it wouldn’t come, it is best to switch gears and consider how to best harness the change to your advantage. The alternative is to risk being left behind in a world where accountants become less known for routine detailed tasks and are more often thought of as insightful, intuitive and forward-thinking strategic assets.

Sound like hyperbole? Read on…

First of all, the following comments apply almost equally to accounting and finance people working at companies and to those of us charged with providing accounting consulting services or fulfilling the public trust role of independent auditing or reviewing financial statements.

Accounting has long suffered the stigma of being a rules and numbers-oriented profession, devoid of almost anything interesting or creative. Those of us who work in this field know this not to be true, but the fact is a fair amount of objective data must be processed and analyzed, and doing that manually can be tedious, human-error prone and time-consuming. Are the terms “bean counters” and “green eyeshades” words you would choose to describe your life’s work?

If you tend toward the more creative, intuitive, interpretive spectrum of personality, your time has come. No longer will you be saddled with the tedium that keeps you from functioning at your highest and best use. Not only that, a machine can set you free by performing certain functions better than you do – precisely because you are human.

AI (“Artificial Intelligence”) is, simply put, the ability of computers to mimic certain traits of human intelligence. This can utilize Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Machine Learning (ML). NLP involves computers classifying and understanding human language elements. SIRI is a good example of NLP functions. MI consists of algorithms that are able to parse data and learn from it over time by observing patterns (just like humans do).

What does this have to do with accounting functions?

Think of the details involved in the vendor payment cycle. Machines can be fed a large number of documents represented in different formats (like scanned images, spreadsheets, on-line data), translate into one platform and analyze electronically what would have taken a large amount of human effort to perform. This frees the human up to review output without being mired in the details and providing insight from the processed data.

Another example in the business setting is the ability of machines to review long and complicated contracts for various attributes that would take humans hours to do, and likely not to highlight key points that might be missed by people, as long as parameters are properly designed. The age-old paradigm of Garbage-In, Garbage-Out (or GIGO) still applies.

The bottom line is that AI allows for the processing of far more data than is humanly possible, which should lead to better analysis or internal controls. And if that were not enough endorsement for getting on the AI bandwagon, how about the ability to spend more time creating analytical and strategic value for your organization, as well as exercising your intellectual and intuitive powers?

What remains for humans in the world of AI is to develop and communicate insights from processes fully understood by that human, and to respond appropriately to novel situations that will always be present.  Wouldn’t you rather be viewed as a problem-solver and strategist, instead of a bean-counter?