Generative AI tools have taken the world by storm since they burst onto the scene almost a year ago. The rate of take-up of programmes such as ChatGPT, Google Bard and Anthropic’s Claude 2, reached unprecedented levels, with people desperate to see what artificial intelligence could do for them, their roles, and their organisations.
The technology has cheerleaders and doom-mongers alike, but one year on, where does AI sit within an organisation? Is it a sinister overlord directing our every move, an all-knowing HAL9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey, or a helpful assistant to pick up the pieces? Or a combination of all 3?
There’s no doubt that it has the potential to revolutionise the industry, reshaping skills and handling huge swathes of data, but fears surround the threat to individual careers and positions, as well as training and development.
Technology already plays an essential role in tax. Although innovation has often been met with fear and scepticism, it becomes embraced as part of the team. It is only 60 years since the invention of the electronic calculator and less than 40 years since the Excel spreadsheet, but both have earned their place as essential tools of speed and efficiency, reducing the human labour required.
Generative AI brings equal opportunity for revolutionising the industry, if used in the right way. We can harness its capabilities to do tasks that we can’t, don’t want, or haven’t got time to do.
Data analysis and reconciliation
Beginning with tasks that we cannot easily do, it has the capability to process and manage thousands of gigabytes of data at high speeds, redefining the field of data analysis. It can produce comprehensive reports on complex data sets with enhanced data visualisation and deeper insights. This not only saves time but also presents detailed information in ways accessible to a wide variety of stakeholders. This streamlining of the process allows for a greater focus on analysis of those findings, rather than their production.
This means that large volumes of data such as the processing of invoices and spending reports can be automated. Repetitive, rule-based tasks such as tax coding queries or simple corporate tax returns can be taken out of the hands of accountants. Hours spent on data entry can now become a thing of the past, maximising efficiencies, and making the best use of already stretched budgets. As the economic climate for many firms looks set to become more challenging, these productivity enhancements can be game-changing.
Not only does this give organisations a head start on their competitors, it can also be invaluable in assessing the market as a whole. Detailed data analysis on market reports, customer reviews or any other public domain information can quickly provide valuable competitive intelligence on the various strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities on offer.
These efficiencies will not replace the need for staff, rather, they change the nature of the work into something that only humans can do. Removing much of the day-to-day grunt work will allow tax professionals to spend more time on strategy and more complex work. It will allow them to focus on client relationships and problem-solving; the higher-level work which requires more than a machine.
Accountancy prides itself on accuracy, so there is always going to be a need for human gatekeepers and guard rails. AI can do much of the work, but it will still require the expertise of a professional to check it is on track. This also leaves the question of governance, and who will take ultimate responsibility for ensuring it is compliant. Therefore, it’s even more vital that tax professionals take the lead in developing and shaping AI for the industry, as it moves forward.
There is scope for developing expertise in big data, visualisation or machine learning which will be vital if the true power of AI is to be harnessed. Not only does it leave room for developing new skills and areas of expertise, AI can also be instrumental in developing and delivering that training. Virtual instructors can provide learning, which is immersive and interactive, developing practical skills on a continuous basis.
Removing the need for mass data entry or repetitive tasks, may have an impact on how the new entrants to the industry learn and develop. If they are no longer doing the basics day after day, how will they come to understand the more complicated elements of the job. A commitment to training, alongside mentorship and guidance from more experienced staff can bridge this gap, arguably in a more fulfilling way.
New technology and new opportunities
Embracing these new opportunities will enhance employee recruitment and retention. With many of the mundane tasks removed, and the scope for more creativity in the role, it quickly becomes a more attractive option to the next generation of digital natives, with a clearer path to career progression, than those competitors who are holding back. With a global skills shortage, talent is at a premium and every advantage needs to be utilised.
Generative AI can be the perfect partner for tax professionals, where the right balance between automation, human interpretation and expertise is struck. We should look to AI as our ‘helpful research assistant’ who will do the heavy data lifting whilst we focus on more nuanced tasks. Consult with your team on where they see potential benefits, and work with them to build a culture that promotes excellence as well as technical advantages.
The dream team of personal excellence and technical innovation can then carry your business into the future.