Robots work behind cubicles in a busy office environment

According to Forbes, accounting functions—such as data entry, data categorization, compliance and reconciliation, and operational tasks including accounts payable and receivable—will be automated by 2020. (Photo by Suwin/Shutterstock)

World | Artificial Intelligence

Friend or foe, the rise of the robot is a chance to reinvent yourself

As AI takes over task-related aspects of our jobs, remaining relevant means staying up to speed and finding ways to service clients more meaningfully

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If you believe billionaire Bill Gates, artificial intelligence could be your best friend—taking tedious and time-consuming tasks out of your hands, and leaving you to focus on what you really want to do.

In fact, Forbes predicts that by 2020, accounting functions such as data entry, data categorization, compliance and reconciliation, and operational tasks (accounts payable and receivable) will be automated by software such as Intuit, OneUp, Sage, and Xero. On the auditing side, AI will offer deeper insights when analyzing big bulks of data.

“The technologies that we have now … allow us to do very different things to change the way that we test, to change the way that we drive insights for the companies that we serve,” says Richard Olfert, managing partner, regulatory, quality and risk management at Deloitte.

Richard Olfert talks to CPA Canada about the impact of technology on accounting.

Accountants will need to measure up focusing on areas that require deeper human judgment and analysis, while working on longer-term strategy and planning for their clients.

“The skillsets that we need are shifting from … bread and butter, debit and credit people to folks who understand business, have an innate curiosity about how businesses work. They have an appreciation for accounting and auditing but they’re also very savvy in the tech world,” Olfert says.

The trick is to use artificial intelligence to your advantage. It’s a chance to improve proficiency, eliminating room for errors, while freeing up your schedule for more fulfilling aspects of the job.

“Robots are our friends. Robotics, artificial intelligence, data analytics, all add to the value of being an accountant, and we must grab hold of that opportunity, not be scared of it,” says Rachel Grimes, president of the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC). “We’ve got to love it because that’s going to help us do our job even better, to service our clients even better, to make our jobs even more exciting. That is the way of the world.”

Robotics add to the value of being an accountant, IFAC’s Rachel Grimes says.

Beyond saving you time and eliminating monotony, AI can also improve your businesses’ bottom line. According to a 2017 whitepaper by International Data Corporation (IDC), AI activities associated with customer relationship management will boost Canadian business revenues by $32 billion by 2021. “In short, IT represents a leveraged investment—paying back many times its base costs. A new technology, like AI, could be even more leveraged,” the paper says.

But not everyone is convinced AI equals opportunity. Tesla co-founder Elon Musk called AI humanity’s “biggest existential threat” and his non-profit company, OpenAI, is working for safer artificial intelligence. There are privacy and security concerns when working with large amounts of confidential data, and fears that person-to-person contact will become irrelevant and job loss significant. A 2016 report from the World Economic Forum estimates AI trends will lead to a net loss of more than 5.1 million jobs globally between 2015 and 2020 (or 7.1 million in total), with white-collar office jobs, including office and admin roles, most deeply impacted. Meanwhile, a 2017 Gartner report says that where there is job loss, there is job creation, estimating that AI will create 2.3 million jobs across various industries starting in 2020.

Regardless of where you stand, AI is here to stay, so finding a way to jump on board—not jump ship—is the way forward. It’s how you rise to the occasion that will be key.

The wisdom of accountants will be indispensable in the future, says Anton Colella.

“While artificial intelligence may grow, and the power of technology may change, the role of accountants and the functions, the fundamental wisdom and insight and good advice and counsel that accountants bring to clients will be indispensable in the future,” says Anton Colella, past chief executive of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS) and global chief executive officer at Moore Stephens International. “The challenge is how firms adapt to that and how they package that wisdom in a way that clients will thrive from that advice.”

For more

CPA Canada will be releasing a primer on artificial intelligence this summer as well as a publication examining the impact AI may have on the profession. The 2018 National Forum on Technology Solutions—set for May 28-29 in Toronto—will also focus on how current and emerging resources, tools and trends across the tech landscape (including AI) will impact business.