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October 16, 2023 AI in CT

For accountants, AI’s benefits are starting to add up

PHOTO | CONTRIBUTED Whittlesey Managing Partner and CEO Drew Andrews in his company's Hartford office.

Artificial intelligence is more than just a fancy calculator, and for accountants, it has the potential to significantly increase efficiency and reduce hours of mundane tasks.

The technology’s use in the industry is “in its infancy,” according to Drew Andrews, CEO of Hartford-based accounting and consulting firm Whittlesey.

He said accountants aren’t using AI right now as much as he expects them to in the future.

Currently, AI is mostly used to scan large documents and help extract or interpret data from loan or lease agreements, which could be hundreds of pages long.

“If you’re looking at one loan document that’s 100 pages long, maybe it’s not so bad, but when you’re looking at 20 of those documents,” AI comes in handy for turning a task that used to take days into something that now takes minutes.

Many accounting firms use AI to increase efficiencies, but all work still needs human checking and verification, Andrews said, and most accountants would not rely solely on consumer products like ChatGPT.

Bonnie Stewart

“There’s immense opportunity to save a lot of time, and to be more effective,” said Bonnie Stewart, executive director and CEO of the Connecticut Society of CPAs.

Accountants are finding AI tools useful for audits and tax services, Stewart said. She noted a recent survey by Big Four accounting firm Deloitte, which found that 94% of accountants think AI is critical to achieving success, “because if you are not working with it, you’re going to be much slower.”

On the national level, PwC and KPMG, which both have significant Connecticut presences, recently announced major multibillion-dollar investments in generative AI technology they said would help automate parts of their audit, tax and consulting businesses.

For example, PwC recently launched an internal generative-AI tool — called ChatPwC — that quickly provides employees feedback on common questions related to taxes and regulations.

AI is helpful in finance for automating repetitive and rule-based tasks, or invoice processing and account reconciliations, experts said.

An AI tool can also review patterns and data to predict when a customer will pay or likely not pay. AI can also automate the extraction and analysis of information from financial documents such as invoices, purchase orders and contracts, experts said.

Can AI generate new interest in accounting?

The accounting industry is plagued by a long-term labor shortage that was exacerbated by the pandemic, as Baby Boomers increasingly head toward retirement and fewer young college graduates enter the field.

Seasoned accountants said one turnoff is the mundane, entry-level work that accountants must grind through, especially in the first few years.

AI can assist or even eliminate much of that work, making the job more appealing, Andrews said.

Stewart said she’s seeing the use of AI in programs like QuickBooks Online, which is not used by accounting firms, but is a useful tool for small businesses to enter financial data and conduct accounts payable.

But like other professions, AI’s use comes with cause for caution.

“There’s also potential to generate misinformation, or accidentally leak confidential information, so you’ve got to make sure that you put protections in place,” Stewart said. “Firms are integrating AI into their systems because they’re adapting internal infrastructure to create a security system.”

Many firms are also careful about not using open source systems where anyone can input data. Instead, programs are being developed specifically for accountants that have protections in place to ensure the outcomes are accurate, and that the information is secure, Stewart said.

Andrews said he expects to see explosive AI growth in the next three to five years.

“I can’t even fathom where we’re going,” he said.

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