Skip to Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Site Map Menu

Dr Dinithi Ranasinghe

Dr Dinithi Ranasinghe

Department of Accountancy and Finance

The University of Otago

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the ability of a machine to perform functions that require human intelligence and discernment. AI, similar to any other technology disruption has a significant impact on how humans do things and this is more prominent in the business world. The increased use of AI in almost all business functions has created the question of whether AI is going to replace jobs performed by humans in the future. Therefore, it is reasonable to think whether AI will replace the accountant.

AI is effective and efficient in performing repetitive day-to-day tasks that the accountants have to perform such as entering invoices and billing data. Accounting software such as XERO, MYOB and QuickBooks, and Sage, mainly available on cloud platforms nowadays, execute these repetitive tasks for businesses efficiently. Bank reconciliation, the process to ensure that all the transactions in business bank accounts are accurately and timely recorded in the business accounting records, is also another function that AI can effectively perform. For example, XERO has the built-in capability to draw bank transactions (i.e. bank feeds) from the bank and suggests suitable matches from the business records. These platforms are also capable of generating timely financial statements, thus, facilitating report generation. The capacity of AI to perform these tasks accurately and promptly has created the necessity to recreate the accountant’s role. Despite AI’s impressive functionality, it is not without limitations. Inflexibility, limitation of availability of data, and societal bias of the machine-generated outputs are some of the well-known boundaries of AI. As AI needs a tremendous amount of past data to learn and perform accurately, these solutions may not be feasible to address novel problems.

Interestingly, accountants will have to work with AI instead of being taken over by AI. Accountants are required to advise clients based on past data. Thus, they can use powerful machines to generate patterns and trends using big data and then use them to provide advice and guidance. The advice can be tailor-made to suit different clients depending on their circumstances and preferences while adding ethical dimensions and legitimacy. In addition, accountants are capable of analysing the root cause of the problems and providing solutions accordingly which may not be feasible via AI only. More importantly, accountants can use AI to perform day-to-day repetitive tasks and free up their valuable time for problem-solving, strategy development, providing leadership, and building important relationships with stakeholders.

AI raises opportunities for the accounting profession and consequently accounting education. At Otago Business School, our accounting graduates are trained to work alongside AI and technology. Our students are trained on more important problem-solving, analytical skills, and critical thinking which enable them to pursue future careers that demand these skills. We have adapted our curricula that enable students to pursue a Business Degree that inculcates the required analytics and technology mindset and to apply professional skepticism of accounting information generated by the machines. In conclusion, AI is a super power that is available that accountants can use alongside their human abilities such as problem-solving, creativity, and ethics. Accountants should be flexible and work alongside the AI in their accounting roles.