CPA INSIDER

Talking ’bout bots, AI, and the value of time

Accountants should think now about the person-hours automation may set free in the future.
By Amy Vetter, CPA/CITP, CGMA

Bots are already a major part of the technology we use in our day-to-day lives. Want to change your playlist on Spotify? Alexa can do that. Running on empty and need directions to the nearest gas station? Ask Siri to show you the way. Want to dim the lights, check your schedule, and interact with smart gadgets without leaving the comfort of your easy chair? Google Home has you covered.

Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Cortana, and Google Assistant, the virtual helper at the heart of Google Home, are examples of artificial intelligence-powered bots. We also are starting to see bots included as part of accounting applications. For example, NowInfinity, a document- and entity-management technology platform in Australia for accounting professionals, has a bot named "Rosie" built into its software. Rosie delivers information to customers in response to voice commands, helping users get assistance and data relevant to their day-to-day tasks.


Chata.ai is a conversational bot that integrates with QuickBooks, Xero, and Stripe. With chata.ai, users can get the data they seek simply by typing in questions or commands in plain English. So rather than sifting through QuickBooks menus and running reports, you enter, "What was gross profit last quarter?" or "Top 5 clients by revenue."

Outside the accounting and B2B space, companies are using bots to deliver customers exactly what they're looking for via messaging. Sephora, in a colorful example, allows customers to upload a photo of the lip shade they want and receive product suggestions, or reserve a makeover appointment.

Servion Global Solutions has predicted that 95% of customer interactions with businesses will be powered by bots as conversational agents by 2025, as businesses seek to increase customer engagement and empower employees. A Juniper Research report last year calculated that the adoption of chatbots just in the retail, banking, and health care sectors will produce $11 billion in annual cost savings by 2023. That's nearly double the $6 billion in savings Juniper estimated for 2018.

The savings cited in the Juniper report come from technology dramatically reducing the amount of employee time needed to respond to customer service requests. In accounting, AI-power bots have the potential to save us tons of time on routine, repetitive tasks.

When that happens, it's vital that we look at the additional time savings as a way to get back to the most important part of our work — helping our customers or internal stakeholders at a business understand the information they receive and how to use it to make business decisions. Rather than seeing it as technology "taking over" the work we do, we should take this opportunity to brainstorm with our clients and staff about what our clients' biggest needs are and how value can be added to their businesses. It is truly an opportunity to help them with the real-time issues they face operationally, in the moment, instead of after the fact. We can make the most of this extra time by being mindful in how we interact with our clients.

As we look for new ways to use bots for historically mundane tasks, it's valuable to also think about using them responsibly and mindfully so that they help, not harm, our productivity and well-being. Wayne Smith, a cloud solutions architect from Microsoft, spoke at the recent AICPA/CPA.com Executive Roundtable on how the different levels of AI and bot technology can impact organizations. Smith emphasized the opportunity for technology to assist humanity. In his talk, he said that responsible AI should be helpful and transparent, and should maximize human efficiencies without destroying our dignity. It is essential, Smith said, to design AI with accountability and trustworthiness.

Whether you use bot technology every day or only once in a while, there's simply no denying its importance in our personal and professional lives. But perhaps more importantly, this is a moment in time to completely rethink the way we interact with one another, our stakeholders and clients, and our technology. In our profession, we'll add value to our customers' lives by providing trusted relationships, sound advice, and guidance as this bot-assisted technology does some of the heavy lifting and frees up our time.

Amy Vetter, CPA/CITP, CGMA, is the CEO of The B3 Method Institute, a keynote speaker and adviser, Technology Innovations Taskforce leader for the AICPA's Information Management Technology Assurance (IMTA) Executive Committee, and the author of the book Integrative Advisory Services: Expanding Your Accounting Services Beyond the Cloud, published by Wiley. Learn more at amyvetter.com. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Jeff Drew, senior editor, at Jeff.Drew@aicpa-cima.com.

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