There’s a notable shift in the perception and acceptance of artificial intelligence unfolding within the accounting profession, as a growing number of firms explore the various applications of AI and generative AI, and the improved efficiencies and competitive edge to be gained from them.
Embracing the Next Wave of Innovation
From search engines, to virtual assistants like Alexa, to self-driving cars, AI has become a part of our everyday lives, and the momentum shows no signs of slowing. Now throw into the mix generative AI, which can create various types of content such as text, images, music, and code on demand.
In November 2022, generative AI ignited a frenzy with the debut of ChatGPT, a sophisticated, next-generation chatbot developed by OpenAI. It was swiftly hailed as the fastest-growing consumer application in history and attracted more than 1 million users in just five days. Today, according to recent statistics from Exploding Topics, ChatGPT has more than 180 million users.
Many accounting firms have taken a wait-and-see approach, especially as it relates to generative AI. However, there now appears to be a momentous shift underway as a growing number of firms are taking a deeper dive into AI and are eagerly exploring how it can fuel greater productivity and profitability within their practices.
The Next Frontier
While the various applications of AI within the profession are still playing out, what is clear is that the innovative technology will have a profound impact on the industry and on daily life, much like the invention of the PC, the internet, and cloud computing.
“I think we are at an inflection point. This [AI] will change the industry in a material way, just like the computer did,” said Bill Armstrong, chief innovation officer for Top 100 Firm Moss Adams in Seattle.
Shaping the Future with AI
However, that’s not to say that reservations on the use of AI within the profession no longer exist. As revealed by the Moss Adams research, 89% of accountants expressed at least one concern about AI.
Therefore, it is critical that firms think about best practices and have the proper AI guidelines and policies in place, as well as factors such as privacy, transparency, and fairness.
Applications of AI
So how are firms currently using AI? The applications of AI within the profession continue to evolve as technology providers increasingly implement AI into their software solutions, while firms — typically larger ones — build and deploy their own AI-powered tools. AI is fundamentally transforming how business gets done, and generative AI is currently taking the spotlight. Some of the commonly cited applications of AI that are currently in use include:
Internal virtual agents: Leveraging the technology to serve as virtual agents that function as internal resources for a firm’s staff.
Client communication and automation: Saving staff time to focus on higher-level work by assisting with such tedious tasks as drafting memos and other documents, responding to emails, summarizing meeting information, etc.
Data analysis and anomaly detection: Analyzing vast amounts of data to identify risk anomalies and possible instances of fraud to improve the efficiency and accuracy of audits.
Tax and client services: Helping clients to make more informed business decisions, as well as conducting fast and accurate tax research to keep pace with legislative and regulatory changes and ensure compliance.
Pioneers in Action
Among the firms experiencing the benefits of AI-powered capabilities firsthand is BDO. One of the AI initiatives underway is the firm’s in-house generative AI solution.
Moss Adams is also looking for ways to increasingly implement AI-powered capabilities. For instance, the firm has developed its own private version of ChatGPT and built specific embedding models around it to help facilitate client work (i.e., draft, review, or edit documents).
Innovations Driving Change
Meanwhile, solution providers are increasingly implementing AI innovation to help firms drive efficiencies and better serve clients. One such example is FieldGuide, which launched FieldGuide AI. As explained by Chang, “FieldGuide AI enables firms to automate tests and requests based on a firm’s unique methodologies, generate tailored engagement deliverables, and intelligently analyze client documents.”
Building Awareness and Understanding
Furthermore, CPA.com announced in 2023 that it is delivering a series of tools and resources to help build awareness and greater understanding of generative AI and its potential impact on the accounting profession.
For instance, in January 2024, CPA.com and the AICPA convened subject-matter experts, technologists, practice leaders, and solution providers for the first AI Symposium. And CPA.com also released a downloadable generative AI toolkit that includes use cases and a strategic, multistep plan for constructing a tailored AI strategy.
“What we were trying to do a lot in 2023 was to demystify [generative AI]. To help frame the discussion. To help firms begin to get their arms around what this capability is and, more importantly, how it can help them evolve and drive their client services forward.”