While artificial intelligence (AI) is by no means new technology, its parameters are constantly shifting thanks to the introduction of new AI tools, thereby revolutionising what AI makes possible. It’s for this reason that headlines across the media have recently been awash with mention of ChatGPT and all its ramifications, including its impact on accountancy professionals.
Much like most other industries, professionals in the accountancy world have questioned how AI tools like ChatGPT will impact their roles, specifically whether the technology is a threat to their jobs. It is important to acknowledge that AI, like any other advancement in technology, is simply a tool that can and should be used by Professional Accountants (SA) to improve the quality, efficiency, and effectiveness of their services.
While AI does have the ability to take on some aspects of an accountancy professional’s role, there’s no reason to fear the worst just yet. AI and technology in general are not going to take over the work of Professional Accountants (SA) in a hurry. It’s important that we see them as enablers to providing clients and the industry at large with more value-added services.
Shifting accountancy beyond the numbers
Burying one’s head in the sand when it comes to AI is simply not an option. Instead, Professional Accountants (SA) should aim to embrace the technology for all its benefits, using it as a tool to move away from data capturing and the stereotypical notions of ‘number crunching’ typically associated with the profession, and into the analysis of data in ways that only human Professional Accountants (SA) are capable of.
This is the opinion of SAIPA as a Professional Accountancy Organisation representing qualified Professional Accountants (SA) in South Africa, having expressed its stance on AI as an enabler of innovation in the profession, and a gateway for Professional Accountants (SA) to enhance their skills in areas relevant to the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).
SAIPA endorses the use of ChatGPT and other AI chatbots as a means for Professional Accountants (SA) in research and data gathering to support management with decision-making and problem-solving. SAIPA is in the process of revising its education and assessment models to this effect. However, the focus of learning will be on interrogating the information gathered to support the development of critical thinking, professional scepticism, problem-solving, and professional judgment.
Looking at AI from a more positive perspective in this way reveals a number of advantages for the accountancy professional with a future-focused mindset – that is, one who hopes to remain relevant by keeping their skills, experience and services in adherence to the ever-changing demands of modern businesses.
For instance, AI can assist in enforcing corporate policy by identifying non-compliance issues and errors in financial data. It can also streamline the data entry and analysis process by recognising and categorising financial transactions from receipt images, using this to provide accurate reports that managers can peruse and analyse far more efficiently. In both instances, technology frees up the Professional Accountant’s (SA) time to focus more on information analysis.
Where fraud and corruption are a common and unfortunate reality in South Africa, AI can act as an independent auditing tool to assess transactions and reports, predict patterns and detect a wide variety of irregularities in financial data.
AI can also be used in budget forecasting to predict a company’s future financial performance based on historical and current financial data, not to mention facilitate tax preparation by extracting relevant information from financial documents to be used in the creation of tax returns.
From a talent acquisition and retention point of view, AI chatbots can assist in the areas of HR recruitment and employee experience, streamlining and optimising HR processes while offering candidates personalised insights into the skills they need to focus on developing as well as possible growth paths in the company and in their careers.
AI is not the enemy; it provides us with data, but it’s certainly no substitute or replacement for human interpretation and expertise. AI is a handy and increasingly necessary companion for Professional Accountants (SA) navigating accountancy and business in the digital age. Embracing technology in this way has a number of benefits for the individual and the industry at large, from streamlining processes to enabling Professional Accountants (SA) to take more of a data analysis and advisory role to their clients.