Accounting & Auditing | Future Ready | Technology

The accounting profession is tackling artificial intelligence opportunities

Small business in America would certainly not be as robust as it is without the smart, effective advice from the accounting profession. History has shown this to be the case. Turning a page in that history book brings along what we now call “AI,” or “artificial intelligence.” New data from online accounting software company Xero shows that despite advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and automated accounting technology, the vast majority of small business owners (72%) will continue to rely on the human consultation of their accountant.

Take the accounting industry as a case in point. Accounting is often singled out as one of the most likely industries to suffer job losses due to the advancement of automation technology. For example, a recent McKinsey study suggested that as many as 800 million jobs could be lost worldwide to automation by 2030, with accounting poised to take one of the biggest hits because “collecting and processing data are two categories of activities that increasingly can be done better and faster with machines.” That same argument existed in some form when computers really started to hit the mainstream, too.

AI is not magic -- it will not solve business problems instantaneously. Bottom line, machines are the tools that people use...and it’s the people skills, experience, intuition and ability to weave all of the decision-making criteria together to make sound decisions that put the ball in the hoop. Spitting out the proverbial ticker tape does not provide a foolproof solution, by a longshot. These tools, AI and otherwise, are all the more need for trusted advisors who can help navigate the waters of change, turmoil and opportunity (and the crowd shouts “CPA! CPA! CPA!”).

Still, though, according to the Small Business Administration, approximately half of small businesses go out of operation within five years. AI is charging full steam down the railroad line like a monster locomotive ready to bolster business efforts on the back of seasoned human direction. Frankly, small businesses don’t see advances in technology as replacements for their CPAs. Maybe when we look at that SBA stat a decade from now it will be markedly improved. Without question, CPAs will continue to play a key role in guiding small businesses to realize the benefits of technology.

We all know that accounting firms are increasingly evolving from a focus on compliance services to more complex business advisory services. According to Keri Gohman, President, Xero Americas, “The data shows that advances in AI and automation are not the doomsday scenario for the accounting industry that is commonly portrayed. Instead, this is a massive opportunity for accountants to play an even bigger role in helping their small business clients succeed. Technology alone will never be the solution; technology combined with people will be.”

Remember the abacus? Technology will continue to enable a positive evolution for accounting practices everywhere, enabling them to broaden their services beyond just compliance services to advisory services. The accounting profession will continue to grab the bull by the horns and make the most of the opportunities at hand. History is on our side.


“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”--Alan Kay



Rob Nance