Regardless of the industry you work in, chances are you have been seeing a lot of discussion online and in your workplace about ChatGPT, a groundbreaking artificial intelligence (AI) program that can generate eerily human-like text responses to just about any question, request or prompt.
As accountants, we are particularly interested in how ChatGPT and future AI technologies will impact our work. Will AI replace accountants? Will it make our jobs easier or just end up adding more to our plates? In this blog post, we explore the applications of AI to accounting, and whether or not AI technologies have the capability of replacing accountants entirely.
What is the difference between AI and automation?
It’s easy to confuse computer-automation with AI technologies. Understanding the difference between the two is important in the accounting context.
Automation is the design and application of technologies to complete specific tasks with little to no human intervention. A calculator performs automations when it returns answers to specific equations. But a human still has to determine the necessary equation
Artificial intelligence is the simulation of human thinking and learning by computer systems that continuously improves when it receives new data. An AI program can go beyond calculating the answer to an equation—it can determine what kind of equation you need to achieve a specific goal. It doesn’t just solve equations, it solves problems.
Since the abacus and other versions of calculators far predate the field of accounting, it’s safe to say that automation is built right into the practice. With the invention of the modern computer and the continued advancement of computer programs and applications, automation has continued to improve accountants’ efficiency and accuracy.
As AI becomes more mainstream, it will likely become as integral to the work of accountants as automation. But will it ever actually replace them?
Does AI eliminate the need for accountants?
Currently, AI is not advanced enough to replace the need for an accountant for a number of reasons:
- Programs like ChatGPT still need someone who knows how to properly prompt it. They are very good at helping you reach a goal or outcome, provided you can specifically prompt it to do so. If you don’t know what you need, ChatGPT is not going to be much help to you. Accountants may be able to use AI to enhance their work, but someone with no accounting knowledge will have a hard time using AI instead of talking to an accountant.
- Current AI programs still need to be fact checked. For example, ChatGPT has a disclaimer that some information may be inaccurate. If you’re using AI to help with a subject you are not familiar with, you need an expert to verify if the output it gave you is correct (and unbiased) information.
- AI is currently not advanced enough to do the entirety of someone’s job. Something like ChatGPT may be able to do a task like generate a formula for your spreadsheet, but it can’t look at a project list, prioritize tasks, problem solve with team members and clients and make a decision when there are multiple options available. At this point, those skills are all human.
Can AI help accountants do their jobs?
Instead of thinking about whether AI will replace accountants, consider how AI can be leveraged by accountants.
AI has the potential to complete tedious or time consuming tasks so that accountants can focus more time on the high-level, strategic parts of the job.
While ChatGPT has been a hot topic, there are a ton of other AI programs that are actually designed specifically for bookkeeping and accounting. Examples of things various AI programs can be used for by accountant include:
- Creating complex formulas for spreadsheets
- Drafting emails, letters and other written content
- Identifying transaction patterns and inconsistencies to help with reconciliation
- Reconciling transactions to receipts
- Identifying errors in your data entry or calculations
Need some ultra-human support?
While we are keen to learn more about AI and how it can streamline the way we support our clients, the team at RHN are people people, through and through.
If you’re looking for tax, audit or other accounting support from professionals who alway provide a personal touch, let’s talk.
This post has been prepared for general information purposes. It is not advice. The information presented may not fit your unique situation, please consult one of our trusted business advisors at RHN CPA for further clarification and interpretation of your circumstances.