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‘Accounting AI will always need human oversight’

Technology

Accountants seeking to implement AI need to be wary of its limitations, two experts say. 

By Christine Chen 9 minute read

The use of AI for accounting “exponentially” increases the risk of misinformation and will always require human oversight, two industry experts say.  

Jason Staats, founder of Realize, an online community for accounting firm owners, said that “AI will never be authoritative” and would always need humans to verify its outputs.

Xero’s AI general manager Soon-Ee Cheah said that AI was limited by the quality of data inputs and could not be trusted to perform accurately in specialised accounting applications.

It was difficult to teach AI to “generalise” information and apply it to new circumstances as effectively as humans, he said.

However, he said accountants should not be afraid of experimenting responsibly with new tools being integrated into software. 

Speaking at Xero’s annual conference, Xerocon, Mr Cheah said he was “excited” about his new offerings that included machine learning-based software to streamline bank reconciliations.

He offered three tips to evaluate generative AI tools like ChatGPT: “Know the data, know the tasks, know the stakes.”

“It’s important to think about whether the AI has access to the information it needs to give you the information you want,” he said.

It was important to be precise when giving AI tasks and specific prompts would generally yield better outcomes than general ones.

Accountants should also consider whether the consequences of mistakes caused by AI would outweigh their benefits.

“It’s not a case of if AI is going to make an error, but when,” he said.

“Design a process around using AI tools safety in a way that suits your risk appetite. By staying one step ahead of technology like AI you can understand how to use it to better suit your clients.”

Mr Staats said AI would only enhance accountants’ work, not replace it.

“The biggest misnomer in this displacement conversation is that there’s a fixed box of things accountants can do. But as tasks go away, we get pulled into new ones. Ideally it would mean allowing us to focus on more meaningful work,” he said.

Mr Staats also said that AI would accelerate the “journey towards value-based billing” and that accountants had an opportunity to bridge the knowledge gap between AI experts and their clients.

“As an accountant, I want it to be the first person to put AI to work for my clients responsibly and ensure we leverage this in a responsible way,” he said.

“Have a play, get comfortable with it, learn with it a day at a time.”

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Christine Chen

Christine Chen

AUTHOR

Christine Chen is a graduate journalist at Accountants Daily and Accounting Times, the leading sources of news, insight, and educational content for professionals in the accounting sector.

Previously, Christine has written for City Hub, the South Sydney Herald and Honi Soit. She has also produced online content for LegalVision and completed internships at EY and Deloitte.

Christine has a commerce degree from the University of Western Australia and is studying a Juris Doctor degree at the University of Sydney. 

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