A CFO’s Confession: How AI is Unlocking Productivity and Performance for the Accounting Sector

I was never a skeptic nor fearful of new tech, even though AI has been rapidly permeating the world of work all around us for years. CFOs have been no exception to this.

Contrary to stereotypes, CFOs are portrayed as professionals who are at the forefront of adopting emerging technologies, including AI. This reflects a mindset shift within the profession, embracing technological advancements for improved efficiency and productivity. That said, I hadn’t gained significant direct interaction with an ‘AI’ that made me say “wow, this is really relevant and impactful!” until recently.

How in the world could AI possibly help an accountant?
I recently found myself immersed in correcting a year-end bonus payroll run during the recent holiday season. I had four hours to make the correction before the payroll would hit. Rather than chatting by email with the PEO (professional employer organization) payroll service and losing critical time, I turned to their online “chat” feature out of curiosity and necessity.

I submitted my question which came back immediately with a response, asking for more information and clarity. This went on for twenty minutes as I worked through a series of issues with them. I honestly thought I was speaking with a “live” person as the clarity of interaction was powerful – while the results were enlightening. Then, I made my final request: “please just delete the file for me.”

I was blown away when the response came back: “as AI support, I do not have authority to delete a file.”

What? I wasn’t talking to a live person? Incredible! Moreso, knowing the AI bot knew when to draw the line between issues solutioning versus making a decision that should be done only by a human was altogether impressive.

During this entire 20-minute plus interaction, I honestly did not realize I was interacting with an AI-powered bot versus a live human typing in the answers – that’s how seamless and relevant the experience was. The AI was able to address the task efficiently, further showcasing the impact of it in dealing with a real-time challenge.

I’ve interacted with many other chat bot type service tools in the past, and it was always clear I was exchanging with a machine and not a person. In this experience I was taken aback by the AI’s response – (e.g., that it lacked the authority to delete a file), providing me with that newfound “wow” moment of how artificial intelligence can truly enrich my work.

A profession with historically high resistance to emerging tech
As a CPA, our profession has been talking, learning, and adopting various new tech tools for more than a decade – with a very open mind that things like AI can have a positive, profound impact on us.

I recently had the opportunity at a KPMG conference to meet Dr. Miklos Vasarhelyi, Ph.D. He wrote a compelling dissertation in 1973, “Man-Machine Planning Systems: A Behavioral Examination of Interaction Decision-Making” and is claimed to be one of the very first papers on AI. In going back to my notes about his talk, and comparing it to my real-world experience and interaction with a ‘machine,’ my optimism and outlook on how AI can enrich our work continues to grow.

What’s certainly clear to me is that AI is not taking away jobs from CPAs, in fact new opportunities are being created every single day through the power of it. From data analytics mining and business intelligence gathering, to the creation of new specialist jobs around Machine Learning and cybersecurity, to simply enriching our daily productivity to work smarter and better, we can now leverage today’s new horizon of AI in ways yet before unimagined. And, it’s helping us as individual professionals to learn and add more value.

As accountants, rather than performing “rinse and repeat” tasks, people like me and across our entire profession have immense amounts of time being freed up to dig into the data analytically and become a strategic and critical partner to the business. I don’t think too many of us will complain about leaving behind much of the lower-level admin, data gathering and spreadsheet crunching when we can in fact direct our talents and time to driving value creation for our organizations.

AI is pushing us toward greater critical thinking and new opportunities – in a positive way that enriches our work. AI enhances productivity and efficiency, and is elevating the overall role of accountants in creating value for our stakeholders. This has become abundantly clear to me! Are you up for the challenge?

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