Should Accountants be terrified of AI?

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Everyone’s talking about AI. And some people are saying that accountants and bookkeepers should be terrified of AI.

5 years or so ago….Intuit’s QBO and other cloud-based accounting software introduced what they called “Artificial Intelligence” (AI) into their software.

The gurus and thought leaders in my industry freaked out.

“OMG! It’s the rise of the machines. We can’t compete with MACHINES for doing all that basic data-entry stuff.”.

“You must pivot your accounting practice away from recording data and doing tax returns to coaching, consulting and advisory work or you are DOOMED”.

Well, guess what? We’re still here.

The landscape is not littered with the bones of failed bookkeeping and accounting firms.

In the US today, there is a shortage of accountants – one firm owner reported that a competitor was headhunting in his parking lot, trying to poach his people.

The AI that they were all trying to terrify us? It’s the capability for me to create a series of rules (“if the receipt says Esso, it’s a fuel purchase”, etc.).

Yes, this has made me more efficient and able to handle the same client volume in less time, or more clients altogether, but I still have to TEACH the machine and check its results.

Last fall, CHAT-GTP debuted, and there’s more chat-based generative AIs on the way.

The same gurus and thought leaders freaked out again.

“AI is here. Millions of people will lost their jobs”, said one.

“Our industry is changed – forever”, said another.

And my favourite?

“Bookkeepers, accountants, copywriters, marketers and lawyers will all be replaced by CHAT-GTP. Not by the AI itself, but by your competitors that are using it.

It may take years, but it’s coming.”

I have three things to say about that.

  1. It’s BULLSHIT. 
  2. And it’s fear-mongering, of the worst kind. 
  3. And it’s from the same people who told me 5 years ago that my profession was “doomed by AI”.

(I’m not impressed with their batting average.)

There are four reasons why I’m not terrified of CHAT-GPT other than the less-than-stellar accuracy rate of those telling me that the sky is falling.

  1. It’s a TOOL. Tools in the hands of a master can do wonderful things. But it doesn’t replace the user.
  2. It’s a TEXT tool. It doesn’t do math – yet. When it does, then I’ll find out how to use it to my advantage.
  3. If it doesn’t know something, it makes shit up.
  4. CHABAD. (What does an Hasidic movement founded in 1775 have to do with AI? Read on).

Where is it going to show up the most in my industry? Whenever bookkeepers and accountants need to generate WORDS – which, let’s admit, is NOT the strong suit for many of my colleagues.

But you need to train it in your style and your voice, because otherwise – every piece of content that you’ll create will be very generic, dull, and boring and sound like everyone else’s. (But dull, grey and boring is the default for many bookkeepers and accountants) And many people aren’t taking the time to do that. I’ve already seen discussions by some colleagues starting off with “Hey, I asked CHAT-GPT to write me 5 blog posts and it did it for me and I just copied and pasted them and I’m done. Wow! This is SO cool. Look at all the time I saved”.

No comment. 

Here’s where it may start to pay off for the word-challenged in any industry:

  1. Creating first drafts of text – emails, letters, reports, brochures
  2. Creating templates for proposals or reports
  3. Research and brainstorming e.g., “Hey CHAT, old buddy, What kind of questions do coaches have about their accounting? Give me 10 examples” 
  4. Summarizing information –  creating an “executive summary”
  5. Automating client service – if a client asks me a question, I can just ask  CHAT-GPT and copy and paste the answer.

(I heard that last suggestion in a webinar. Remember, CHAT-GPT has been known to make stuff up. Gotta wonder if anyone’s errors and omissions insurance is going to cover that!)

So what does Chabad have to do with why I’m not worried about CHAT-GTP?

Chabad is Orthodox Jewish movement and philosophy. It’s an acronym for the it’s three foundational principles, which translate as:

  • Wisdom
  • Understanding or Discernment
  • Knowledge

Knowledge is collection of facts and information

Understanding is the ability to comprehend their use and judge well

Wisdom is experience, knowledge and good judgment.

CHAT-GTP has knowledge – it’s got a vast sea of facts about everything. It can find out and spit out the rules of accounting or tax law all day long.

But does it have the experience to apply that knowledge? Can it understand the nuances and differences between my business and yours? Does it have the discernment to figure out what applies in different situations?

No. It doesn’t. 

Not today. Maybe not ever. 

That’s still the purview of people. 

At one AI webinar a lawyer said “Law school taught me the law. I didn’t teach me how to practice it. I leant that when I started working as a lawyer.”

And that’s why I’m confident that bookkeepers and accountants and lawyers and marketers and real estate agents and coaches and consultants … insert the appropriate profession … aren’t going to be replaced by an AI.

It’s a great collaborator and assistant.

Call me a contrarian if you wish. But people will always beat the machine.

PS: “People will always beat the machine.” Star Trek taught me that.

PPS I don’t view other people in my industry as competitors. They’re friends, colleagues and collaborators. What about you?

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