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Opinion: Accounting pros see industry future with voice-activated AI

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Last month, I received a special invite to an executive roundtable in New York City hosted by the American Institute of CPAs. The AICPA’s event invited 41 technology companies that develop software for the accounting profession.

The roundtable had representation from well-known names Microsoft, QuickBooks, Bill.com and Thomson Reuters. There also was participation from up-and-comer Expensify, a paperless expense management firm, as well as other Silicon Valley technology companies.

Organizers also invited 10 certified public accountants from firms of all sizes. I received my invitation to represent the perspective of some 39,000 small firms across the United States. The objective of the roundtable is for each of the tech companies to present on current product developments and roadmaps for the future. The CPAs are invited to provide the tech companies their perspectives on the needs of the accounting profession.

The presentations of the tech companies made me enthusiastic about the work I do. There has never been a better time to be a CPA because of the work being done with technology.

In with the new
“AI is the new electricity.” That statement was made by Stanford professor and computer scientist Andrew Ng.

For the past many years, artificial intelligence has been presented as a concept that will transform our daily lives – including how we do business.

Ng was staking a claim that AI is no longer futurist, geek speak. Instead, it is real. It is here. And it already is a bare essential for our daily lives – such as electricity.

AI is the technology that makes self-driving vehicles a possibility. Self-driving vehicles are no longer futurist, geek speak either. The innovation is here. Now, it’s just a matter of governmental regulation catching up with the technology. So, while most of the world is still grappling with understanding the depths of AI in general, innovators of tech companies are moving on to the next big thing: voice-activated AI.

Voice assistants in business
Voice assistants are becoming common household items. Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home are part of our daily lives.

“Hey Google, add milk to the grocery list.” Or, “Alexa, set my alarm for 6 a.m.” If these voice assistants can help us master our personal lives, why can’t they help us master our work lives? They can, and they’ve already started.

As a business owner or entrepreneur, can you imagine a day when you come into the office, sit down at your desk with no keyboard and have this type of conversation with your accounting system: “Hey QuickBooks, show me all the bills I need to pay this week.”

“OK QuickBooks, pay the rent and utilities with an ACH transfer on Friday.”

Of the 41 tech companies represented at the event, the overwhelming majority of the companies’ roadmaps for future products included a form of voice-activated AI. In fact, at the end of the event, there is an award presented for Most Compelling Presentation as voted on by the attendees. This year, it went to Chata.AI, a tech-company laser focused on integrating voice-activated AI into our accounting systems.

Why speech?
Am I the only one who is challenged by a constantly growing to-do list? Do you feel it’s a vicious cycle of whack-a-mole for you?

As quick as you mark through items at the top of the list, do twice as many items fill up the bottom of the list? In these days of constantly wearing our busy badges and crowded to-do lists, where is the life-preserver?

The roundtable event helped me understand that voice-activated AI could be that life-preserver for all of us in accounting. Why? A simple presentation slide from the event helped me gain this understanding. A person with average typing skills can type 39 words per minute, but can speak 130 words per minute. That’s 233 percent faster. Even a slow-talker like me can win a race against the fastest typing.

This should give us hope for gaining more productivity in our daily lives.

New horizons
Have you ever observed a child using voice-activated tech? For example, asking Siri to call a family member on FaceTime or play a song? Search it on YouTube for a laugh. And the next time you see this, pay attention to the pure joy on the child’s face when the tech does what it asks. It’s fascinating.

As a CPA, I am joyful about this technology; same as those children experimenting with the technology. I welcome it to the accounting profession with open arms. AI and VA-AI are not about job replacement for CPAs and accountants; it’s about embracing and leveraging the tech so we can provide greater service for our clients. It allows us to truly become a trusted business adviser.

Gary Wood is a partner at Compere Robinette CPAs. He can be reached at garywood@cpa.com.

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