AI machine robot

Will AI Replace the Need for Accountants

Robo Advisors Could Spark a Rise in the “Technologically Unemployed”

Advances in machine learning and AI mean that smart tech is getting ever-smarter. Could it end up doing our jobs better than we can?

It sounds like the hackneyed plot from a science fiction movie. Artificial intelligence advances to such a stage that it can do things better than humans, and therefore renders them obsolete. On the big screen, this would be followed by a Terminator style fightback by the humans, but in the real world, it is a process that is already well underway. The question is, how far it will go?

Visit any factory, and it becomes obvious that the “rise of the machines” started decades ago. Robots can assemble everything from boxes of tea bags to mobile phones to motor cars faster, better and cheaper than human workers. In the new world of data analytics, machine learning, AI and natural language processing mean that software algorithms are rapidly superseding human data analysts, at least as far as the repetitive review, sort, categorise processes are concerned.

And now, people are increasingly turning to online robo-advisors to answer their financial questions and help with their tax returns. Does this signal the end of the accountancy profession as we know it? One firm of accountants in Peterborough, that specialises in serving small businesses and sole traders thinks that is unlikely – at least, for now.

Increased automation and digitisation

The accountancy field makes the perfect case study, as it is one that has just seen a digitisation process on a massive scale with the government’s making tax digital initiative. Automating the process of submitting tax returns is a Godsend, but not just for those millions of UK taxpayers.

The point is that while digitisation has, in this example, streamlined the “how” of completing the task in hand – in this case, submitting a tax return – it has not altered the “what”. Taxpayers still need the same level of advice and support that they ever have in getting their tax return right. And for those who are less technologically savvy, they need more expert support than they did before, not less.

The rise of AI

Of course, digital advances run deeper than providing online platforms to save on paper form filling. There is no denying that as AI advances, it can research far more data and case histories in a fraction of a second than a human could in a week in order to arrive at recommendations and to answer questions.

It is this aspect of providing virtual support that, perhaps, provides the biggest challenge, not just to accountants but to those in any advisory capacity.

Humans need the human touch

To really understand why that Peterborough firm is right, and they don’t need to look for a new career yet, we need only look at the medical profession. AI is already being used there to stunning effect in order to make better diagnoses and recommend treatments.

Does this negate the need for GPs? Of course it doesn’t. AI will never be able to look a client in the eye and build a trust-based relationship like a person can. The biggest lesson that the accountancy profession can learn from the medical sector is that AI is a tool to be used and exploited to deliver better service, not a rival to be feared and avoided.