Augmented Accounting: How AI Drives Greater Productivity And Efficiency For Accounting Firms

2019.10.11

Joshua Kwah

PERSPECTIVES

Accounting professionals are becoming increasingly valuable to their clients. They are acting as consultants in tax planning, operations discussions, and strategic development. Traditional responsibilities like reporting and receipts tracking are no longer services, but expectations. As these redundant processes encroach on firms’ new high-level responsibilities, the accounting industry has become more receptive to artificial intelligence (AI) solutions.

As with other industries, AI can transform accounting by streamlining tedious tasks and substituting for human intellect in specific instances. Still, 80% of businesses haven’t employed AI in their workforce due to uncertainties about ROI or business cases. Accounting firms are among the many who must develop a deeper understanding of how AI can solve unique problems in their industry.

Six Successful Business Cases for AI in Accounting

Fortunately, proven use cases are emerging that make AI more accessible to accounting firms. Enterprise financial firms are lodging as much as 50% of its audit confirmations [3] using AI.

“By 2020, embedded AI will become a key differentiating factor in finance systems evaluations, and vendors with this capability will be able to highlight greater functional advantages.”How AI Will Transform Financial Management Applications, Nigel Rayner, vice president at Gartner

 

Consider the following six use cases as you explore AI opportunities for your business.

1. Accountancy document management

Firms encounter tedious problems when accessing accounting documents and precedence cases. They are often archived incorrectly, leading to confusion when they are needed most. Fortunately, AI solutions can auto-tag these digital documents for easy storage and semantic search.

AI systems standardize tagging terms automatically. This minimizes tedious manual labor in both the archiving and recall of key documents. Removing the need for a human ‘tagger’ reduces errors as well.

 

2. Automated cross-checking to streamline due diligence process

Accountants extract accurate information from multiple colleagues to produce formal financial statements. This is also a time-consuming, manual process that is prone to human error. AI can reduce the risk associated with these processes.AI software automatically cross-checks report information to validate its accuracy. These tools auto-tag information for content identification. Meanwhile, document extraction software [4] reviews and cross-checks that information. Companies like Santander have already set a precedent in this way through their successful SME onboarding processes [5]. Santander has dramatically reduced their typical non-customer SME onboarding time from an average of seven days to only fifteen minutes.

 

3. AI-powered FAQ virtual assistants

Companies are using AI-driven virtual assistants (VAs) to help employees and streamline operations. In 2019, 40% of large companies [6] had plans to implement them on company-owned devices. These tools respond to FAQs, suggest transactions, and retrieve complex documents for both employees and customers.

VAs improve internal and external stakeholder user experiences. They facilitate greater productivity and better transactions as well. Soon, multi-function VAs will process complex requests across any variety of accounting domains where transactions and information access can be streamlined.

 

4. Risk summary knowledge representation

Accounting firms use knowledge graphs or knowledge maps to visualize risk for their clients. These tools provide a visible map or representation that helps determine who requires an internal audit.

Executives can apply AI for auto-tagging in these instances as well. Specifically, they can leverage AI for named entity recognition, ontology management, and relationship browsing within systems. This way, leaders can spend valuable time developing client strategies instead of identifying risks and issues.

 

5. Auto-clause update

It’s critical that accounting firms keep their clients’ clauses updated against local regulations. AI can speed up the identification and updating of clauses through semantic search engines, ontology management, and auto-tagging as well. This eliminates the need for manual checking and provides peace of mind for firms.

 

6. Finance professionals learning management

Human resource business partners (HRBPs) struggle to identify skills and experience gaps when hiring. They need these insights to supplement existing staff with the right training and capabilities as well. Fortunately, AI can expand broad-based digital literacy and awareness among employees.

Learning and development programs driven by AI provide stages of training based on employees’ and organizational needs. These programs leverage user profiles and inputs to identify and recommend training modules, vendor solutions, materials, and resources. They can even provide employees with personalized career roadmaps. The Singapore government has its own such solution [7] it applies in multiple industries.

 

Conclusion

Opportunities to apply AI across industries are virtually limitless. Accounting firms will increasingly use AI to improve rules-based approaches, fraud detection, and the analysis of structured and unstructured data, among other applications.

However, experts predict professional fields will always require a human touch. In this case, AI will supplement human expertise and ingenuity, ‘augmenting’ human skillsets. Accounting firms that apply AI with this approach in mind are best equipped for long-term success.

 

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