Datardina suggests accountants start engaging with ChatGPT to prompt and produce the right type of content (Getty Images/Tom Werner)
There has been a growing interest in ChatGPT as the next big thing in technology innovation since it was launched in November 2022. The move has taken artificial intelligence-based natural language processing (NLP) to a level that makes it accessible to the masses.
But what does that mean for CPAs? To understand the impact of ChatGPT on accounting practices, CPA Canada spoke with Malik Datardina, CPA, governance, risk and compliance strategist with Auvenir in Toronto and volunteer with CPA Canada’s Audit and Assurance Technology Committee.
Here are some insights he shared.
CPA CANADA: What is ChatGPT?
MALIK DATARDINA (MD): ChatGPT is the latest release from OpenAI, an AI research laboratory in San Francisco. The application is an example of generative AI that uses deep learning and NLP to engage in conversations. It can write blog posts, generate workout regimes and even generate Python or Visual Basic for Applications code if you simply tell it what you want. It’s also earned the moniker “CheatGPT” because of its ability to be used by students to circumvent the traditional essay writing process.
CPA CANADA: How significant of a technology breakthrough is ChatGPT?
(MD): The last time we saw something that attracted this much interest was when Watson won on Jeopardy in 2011. After ChatGPT launched, UBS reported 57 million users in the first month, reaching 100 million users in January.
CPA CANADA: How can accountants use ChatGPT?
(MD): Right now, it’s good for drafting any public content such as form letters, public-facing emails, web content or blog posts. Accountants can definitely use it there. They can also generate programming code to write a website. There are YouTube videos out already that explain how to do that.
CPA CANADA: What is the biggest challenge with accountants using ChatGPT?
(MD): People have a general tendency to over rely on computers. But sometimes computers can be wrong. When using ChatGPT, you have to be very careful to vet the output yourself. You also have to ensure you are asking the right questions, or you may get incorrect responses.
So, it should be clear that ChatGPT is not suited to take on professional judgement. Instead, it’s for us as CPAs to master how we can outsource the drudgery to the tool, while we do the critical thinking and decision-making. In other words, it’s still up to the CPA to pull the picture together and then ensure that the employer, client or stakeholder’s needs are met. Generative AI, as it is right now, can’t do that.
CPA CANADA: Any words of caution to pass on?
(MD): Another challenge with using ChatGPT within workstreams is confidentiality. If you are a consultant or auditor, you can’t process confidential information such as employer or client data on ChatGPT any more than you can on Twitter.
A lot of documentation that CPAs work on is private so AI can’t touch that. AI can only work on massive data sets on the web. It remains to be seen how algorithms get access to information.
CPA CANADA: Are there other concerns about ChatGPT?
(MD): One big issue that needs to be watched is liability. Normally, professionals take the responsibility for everyone working under them, whether human or robot. The same holds true with self-driving cars. If the car hits someone, who is responsible—Google or the car? Consequently, ChatGPT is not set-up to be a replacement for what we do as CPAs. For routine tasks, like data entry, it’s a different story. That type of work is ripe for automation through robotic process automation, machine learning or other technologies.
CPA CANADA: Will ChatGPT eliminate jobs?
(MD): There is a huge debate about whether AI will come for workers. During the Luddite movement in the 19th century, workers were being automated out of existence. They weren’t against the technology, but against the idea of it taking jobs. We saw that again in the 1980s with robotics replacing some blue-collar workers. At a recent AI Forum a participant said, “AI won’t replace accountants, but an accountant with AI experience will replace other accountants.” From what I’ve seen so far, that’s a good analogy.
At this point, I see ChatGPT playing a role with smaller accounting practices, as it can help them gain an edge and punch above their weight. Those who may not have written a blog post or created their own web content can do that with ChatGPT. All accounting practices can potentially look at it as a way to reduce the amount of time spent on certain content writing and help them work with multiple clients more efficiently.
Either way, you will need a certain level of expertise to review the outputs of ChatGPT.
CPA CANADA: What should accountants be thinking about at this point?
(MD): Access to ChatGPT is free. I think CPAs should get into it and try to figure it out. As a profession, we need to learn how to prompt and engage with it and produce the right type of content. I would also highly recommend that for anyone using the application, they do so in a way that allows data confidentiality to be respected. As for me, I’m not going to fight with the machine. My plan is to run with it.
STAY UP-TO-DATE ON AI
Dig deeper into CPA Canada’s resources on how automation and AI could change the CPA’s role. Listen to the Foresight podcast exploring its impact on accounting. And learn why it’s important to develop a responsible and human-centred approach to AI.