Accountants look to artificial intelligence as clients get more demanding

Accountancy firms are planning to invest in artificial intelligence and automation technologies to free up staff from repetitive administrative tasks

Half of accountants are either considering or are already adopting artificial intelligence (AI) and automation technology to reduce repetitive tasks as customers expect more of them.

A 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, which has led 50% of them to look at AI and automation technology.

Almost half (49%) said they wanted to automate number crunching, data entry and diary management, while two-thirds planned to invest in AI to automate repetitive and time-consuming tasks.

Kriti Sharma, vice-president of AI at Sage, said accountants currently view AI as an automation tool, but the number of accountants who invest in AI will increase over the next two to three years as they start to see the true value of intelligence services.

“For example, accountants will be able to scale their operations by using AI to review millions of transactions that would have traditionally taken hours to do manually – spotting anomalies and making recommendations,” said Sharma.

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Accountancy is not the only traditional white collar industry being shaken up by the growing use of artificial intelligence.

Mark Lewis, a lawyer at Berwin Leighton Paisner, told Computer Weekly that the company’s lawyers were changing the way they work as a result of technology disruption. For example, the law firm is using software to assemble documents designed to be read by AI. These documents are structured in a way that makes the use of AI to process them more efficiently.

Automation has gone beyond the simple automation of contact centres to connect customers to the right department, and moved on to using cognitive technology to answer questions for customers.

Software robots today even give financial advice. For example, NatWest is offering consumers an investment advice service automated through software. In 2017, the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), which owns NatWest, said automated financial advice services led to a 220-employee reduction in its face-to-face adviser roles.

Meanwhile, cloud computing is being widely adopted by accountancy firms, according to the Sage research. It found that 67% of respondents believed cloud technology was making their businesses more successful.

Jennifer Warawa, executive vice-president of partners, accountants and alliances at Sage, said accountants had been distracted by the suggestion that offering additional services could detract from their core accountability of offering taxation services and advice, but were beginning to see the potential benefits.

“As the cloud has become mainstream, accountants are realising there’s more opportunity than there is risk. Those prepared to embrace new ways of working and evolve their business model really are reaping the benefits,” she added.

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