Speaking to the BBC this week, chief economist at the Bank of England Andy Haldane said that disruption caused by the Fourth Industrial Revolution would be "on a much greater scale" than that experienced during the First Industrial Revolution in the Victorian period. Advising that the UK required a skills revolution to counteract individuals becoming "technologically unemployed", Haldane said that training was necessary to ensure workers could leverage new job opportunities as they became available in the era of artificial intelligence. The accountancy industry is one sector primed to capitalise on the rise of artificial intelligence and machine learning. The sector has already embraced automation, with intelligent software removing the traditional compliance aspect of the accountant role. And, as the government's Making Tax Digital initiative edges ever closer, the implementation of a digital tax system has encouraged accountants across the UK to confront how they view and employ technology on a day-to-day basis.
In the coming decades, intelligent systems will take over more and more decision-making tasks from humans. While accountants have been using technology for many years to improve what they do and deliver more value to businesses, this is an opportunity to reimagine and radically improve the quality of business and investment decisions – which is the ultimate purpose of the profession. In order to realise this potential, the profession needs to focus on the fundamental business problems it aims to solve, and imagine how new technologies can transform its approach to them.
In 2013, Oxford University published research that said accountants and auditors have a 94 per cent chance of being replaced by robots. It is no surprise that areas of the finance function are at risk of automation. Artificial intelligence (AI) systems are powerful, and are improving quickly and constantly. Evidence from areas like medical diagnostics show that algorithms can make vital decisions – and perhaps better ones than people. Attempts to ignore the fact that machine learning is superseding human capabilities are fated to end in failure.
There are very few buzzwords being thrown about as much as artificial intelligence is in accountancy at the moment. But where exactly does the truth lie, between those who feel it will never grasp the nuances of accounting, and the people predicting the inexorable rise of our automated overlords? Tom Davenport, distinguished professor at Babson College, has done extensive work studying the business applications of AI, and sees a world of opportunities for accountancy. He reasons that accounting's fundamentally structured set of activities with carefully specified tasks and outputs, lends itself to AI integration. "When there is structure and repeatability, AI is the tool of choice. All of the leading accountancy firms are in the process of developing AI solutions, so I think that's a pretty good indication of the potential the technology has for the profession," Davenport explains.
Learn about the impact of artificial intelligence and the opportunities it presents for the accountancy profession. While accountants have been using technology for many years to improve what they do and deliver more value to businesses, this is an opportunity to reimagine and radically improve the quality of business and investment decisions – which is the ultimate purpose of the profession. The IT Faculty also hosts a free, live-streamed event on 30 June, with artificial intelligence expert Professor Moshe Vardi, to discuss the growth of artificial intelligence and its impact on the accounting profession. Artificial intelligence systems can be very powerful and are improving quickly. They provide outputs that can be extremely accurate, replacing and, in some cases, far superseding human efforts.