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Redefining expense management with AI technology

Neil Everatt, CEO at Selenity

Artificial intelligence (AI) can be one of those questionable industry buzzwords that often gets thrown around.

However, there’s no denying that the technology is significantly transforming businesses around the world. From automating time-consuming tasks to analysing data with greater efficiency and accuracy – AI is helping employees to work smarter. Aside from the clear benefits that AI can bring, there is a growing concern that the technology could threaten job roles such as accountants.

While it’s true that the technology may remove the need for accountants to perform traditional services like audits,it won’t replace human accountants and/or accounting departments completely. It’s expected that by 2020 accounting activities, such as audits, payroll, tax, banking, will be fully automated with the use of AI-based technologies. So where does this leave the roll of the accountant and how will AI impact the profession?

Understanding the role of AI in accountancy

Industry analysts such as McKinsey and Company recently reported that financial services are amongst those leading the charge in digital investment. Perhaps this is due to the nature of their work, where large volumes of data are generated and stored. Advances in machine learning have particular relevance for accountants and it’s important to understand the opportunity that AI presents, as well as the impact on areas such as auditing and expenses.

 When looking at AI’s impact on the industry we’re seeing more and more a job shift rather than a job loss. The automation of tasks has the ability to free accountants from performing manual checks and increasingly this is allowing those in in-house roles to widen their responsibilities. In some cases, the introduction of expenses technology has allowed companies which once had three or four people manually processing expenses – to relocate those employees to other valuable areas of the business. This focus on value-added contribution is encouraging accountants to work more collaboratively with their business counterparts in departments such as human resources and operations. By translating data into useful information, accountants are able to ensure the correct interpretation of data and actively support decision making. This highlights the benefits that AI technology can bring especially in the amount of time saved and the intelligent insights added – not only does it increase value but it also allows accountants to move towards more legislative and compliance orientated tasks.

Increasingly with the mainstream adoption of AI, areas such as duty of care are becoming more accessible and important to accountants. For many businesses, managing drivers and vehicles is a huge responsibility and impacts their financial, environmental and duty of care obligations. Failure to comply with regulations can lead to financial penalties and because of this we’re seeing accountants take an interest. Previously the process of checking driving licences could be arduous and involve filling in forms to gain permission to check against DVLA data. Now that process can be completely automated and is built into expenses systems, saving time and money.

 Integrating AI into accountant’s daily operations

AI has the ability to free accountants from menial tasks, allowing them to focus on more complicated processes. With machines carrying out calculations, compliance and confirming information, accountants are given accurate data faster as well as the confidence that the data is complying with HMRC policies. This relieves accountants of the hours spent on mundane administrative tasks, ultimately freeing them up to deliver more value and better services to their clients – as well as focusing on growth and overall business success.

Another good example of AI’s integration with accounting comes from the auditing of expense claims. It’s easy to see how machine learning software can be used to remember and enforce a company’s expenses policy. This eradicates the need for accountants to manually read through receipts and identify dates and VAT numbers. Instead AI engines could automatically look at receipts and audit expense claims, sharing any abnormalities and sending them for human investigation and approval. Utilising the AI in this way would ensure that the expense claims reaching accountants are accurate and valid, whilst rejecting those which aren’t – such as claiming two breakfasts on the same day.

Ultimately, adopting AI and machine learning as a core technology of the accountancy practice has the potential to create greater opportunities than ever before. The rise of smartphones and personalised experiences is set to impact accountants too and we’ll see more intelligence from smartphones when performing functions. For instance, if an employee is driving, the smartphone might prompt the user to see if they would like to make a claim for their mileage, or auto-populate an expense claim by scanning a receipt. The pace for adoption isn’t set to slow, so it’s important to look at incorporating automated tools to increase your efficiency.