AI and Accounting
This report has been produced to explore the perception of artificial intelligence (AI) among accounting employees, and help guide and support employers who are already, or considering, adopting AI technology.
Our research finds that employees do have concerns about AI, but see its potential benefits too. 80% would like relevant training to help them understand it, and to help them reap the benefits within their roles.
There’s evidence of some confusion over how it will impact the accounting profession – which is, perhaps, to be expected given the level of hype surrounding recent developments, coupled with a relatively early stage of usage within the industry.
As employers determine their own approach to, stance on, and use of AI, communication with employees will be critical to manage any fear around job losses. Training and reassurance focused on moving anyone affected to other roles in the business will also be crucial.
To be in a position to do this, companies need to assess their skills gaps, and how AI technology could affect them.
AI will bring multiple opportunities to businesses – communication, training, and reassurance will be critical to ensure their staff also see it as an opportunity, rather than a threat.
This report focuses on the responses of employees within the accountancy & finance sector. The information was gathered in June 2023 from a survey sent to 12,000 employees working in a wide range of accounting roles.
How do accountancy employees feel about AI?
While much has been said about the state of artificial intelligence within accounting – how it might develop, what it might mean for the industry, and crucially, whether jobs might be lost – relatively little has been written about how accounting professionals feel about it.
The picture at this stage, according to our data, is relatively muddied. Employees report feeling both positive and negative about the advent of advanced AI – they see the potential benefits, but they’re also worried about accountancy jobs being lost. They are concerned about AI’s transparency, errors and ethics, but they also think it will make their working lives easier.
With AI developing so quickly, it’s understandable that employees have mixed feelings about the technology. It is also, perhaps, to be expected that junior employees are less likely to feel positive about it – while 55% of junior employees say they feel mostly positive about AI being used in accounting, this is eclipsed by the 69% of senior employees who feel this way.
“Seniors have a more strategic view and as such are more likely to see the benefits of routine repetitive tasks being executed by AI,” says John Lynes, director at the Ashdown Group. “But for junior roles, it’s their manual and repetitive routine tasks that are being taken on. That’s why they’re feeling the heat slightly. It will be a case of juniors needing support to adapt and change, and use AI to their benefit.”
What do employees see as the positives of AI?
Senior employees are more likely to see the positives of AI than junior employees, but for both groups, the positives relate to increased efficiency, better decision making, improved speed and accuracy, and better prediction of risk.
Gavin Fowke, director of finance and HR at TMA Data Management, says AI is already improving things for accountancy teams:
John Lynes says the best way to ensure businesses benefit from AI, rather than be overtaken by it, is to plan for it. “Analyse which parts of the accounting team’s work could potentially be done by AI in the future, and refocus employees on other areas in finance,” he says. “Upskill the team to ensure they’re still adding value to the business.”
What are employees worried about when it comes to AI?
Employees show signs of generalised worry and uncertainty about how the impact of the technology will play out over the longer term. They are also aware of the risk of errors and bias with AI, a lack of transparency over how it makes decisions, and ethical concerns.
People in junior roles are particularly concerned – nearly half (47%) of juniors and over a quarter (28%) of seniors say they are worried. Meanwhile, 43% of juniors and 39% of seniors agree that they cannot predict how AI will change the sector.
Some of this relates to fears around the loss of jobs – although there is confusion and uncertainty over this as well, with no resounding agreement coming from employees. While just over a third (34%) think jobs will be lost, a further third are neutral – suggesting they are unsure – and just under a third do not expect jobs to go. Part of this is lack of clarity is down to the fact that AI still has so far to go in terms of development. As it evolves, these things will become more apparent.
There is further confusion over where people think job losses will occur. While many professionals agree that some jobs in the industry are at risk, few think their personal role will be in the firing line - 29% of juniors and just 14% of seniors see AI as a threat to their role.
As Lynes says: “It can be hard to see it creeping up from the inside, when people are busy with their day jobs, and identify where the risk is. Seniors in particular will not see it as a threat to their roles, because their job usually involves finding ways to provide a service in a more cost effective way, and AI will help them do that.”
Which roles do employees believe are most at risk?
With employees expecting some roles to disappear as a result of AI, where do they expect the casualties to be felt?
Employees believe the roles of accounts assistant, bookkeeper, sales ledger and credit control are most at risk of being replaced by AI.
What should businesses be doing?
With employees so mixed in their feelings about AI, employers might feel confused about their own next steps. But there are three clear areas businesses should be looking at.
- Employees want more training to help them understand and use AI. 74% of junior employees and 83% of senior employees say they will need training to help them benefit from using AI in their current role.
- There needs to be more communication from employers relating to how it might affect roles, and how the business is going to address that in terms of training and enhancing skills.
- Companies should start looking at skills gaps, and how to use the technology as advantageously as possible.
As John Lynes at the Ashdown Group says, the skills people will need relate to how to manage AI effectively – including checking on its work. He says: “How can you ensure there is transparency, and how can people check if AI has made mistakes? They’ll need to understand how it all works.”
Gavin Fowke at TMA Data Management says this should be something companies stress the importance of, because of a natural tendency to rely too heavily on the technology once people are used to it. He says: “AI does and will help us get to the answers quicker, and make things more efficient. However, there is a tendency for people to become lazy, and a reliance on AI will, in many cases, encourage staff to accept what is being presented to them rather than go through the additional verification process that is so fundamental to accounting. As a more experienced accountant I know to independently verify results, but a systems reliant culture is coming through where this is being lost.”
Training should focus particularly hard on this for younger recruits – especially if and when traditional entry-point roles start to disappear. Lynes says one consequence of the potential changes caused by AI is that companies will need to think about how junior people will be trained and progress through the organisation. “If your entry roles have been moved to AI, they’re normally the apprentice ground or the development area for people who then go on to more senior positions. Do you want to be taking someone from university into a [more senior] finance manager role? Companies will need to consider the implications of cutting out those roles.”
As these changes occur – often at a slower pace than people may fear – it is critical for employers to maintain strong communication. As Lynes says: “It’s not necessarily about calming people’s fears, it’s more a case of supporting them – identifying roles at risk, retraining them to use AI, and reassuring them there’s a future in the business for them.”
Fowke agrees, saying: “Change within any organisation is best achieved when there is an openness and transparency with the stakeholders, in this case the employees. If systems are being implemented that affect daily working practice, it will help if you explain to the staff the benefits and what they will gain from the process and ensure training is available.”
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