Optimistic accountants embrace AI as profession shows desire to learn and adapt

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Optimistic accountants embrace AI as profession shows desire to learn and adapt
Optimistic accountants embrace AI as profession shows desire to learn and adapt

ACCA’s Digital Horizons report reflects on how accountants see the role technology will play in their future

Mumbai, 21 September 2023: Financial professionals share a sense of optimism about digital transformation including AI (artificial intelligence).  

A survey among members of ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) sees a range of key organisational benefits in adopting digital technologies including flexibility/adaptability, quality of products and services, sustainability performance, transparency and regulatory compliance (72%). 

However, The Digital Horizons survey – which garnered 1,074 responses from ACCA members across the globe – noted that financial professionals still see the main benefit of technology as offering efficiency/process improvements: 52% ranked efficiency, internal process optimisation or cost savings in their top three objectives when adopting a new technology.  

Only 18% included competition-related reasons, such as responding to customer demands, enhancing market insights, introducing 24/7 capabilities, or maintaining competitive advantage. 

Cost remains the top challenge when adopting technology, but organisational culture also remains a critical factor in successful adoption.  

Welcoming the report Md. Sajid Khan, Director – India at ACCA said: ‘We know that finance and accountancy professionals in India are keen adopters of technology. They see technology as empowering them and helping them add value. We look forward to seeing accountants continuing to learn about AI and using the benefits of AI to help transform business and accounting practices.’

The survey did see a more mixed response to how technology supports personal objectives. Productivity (cited by 85% of respondents), collaboration (76%) and career development (65%) were all strong but fears over job security were apparent, only 30% saying technology was supportive in that respect. The impact on career development was notably positive, with many roundtable discussions revolving around access to learning and more flexible opportunities. 

Leadership emerged as a key theme in both the survey and the roundtables. Alistair Brisbourne, head of technology research ACCA, said: ‘Leadership is generally considered to be a cornerstone of successful innovation and yet it can seem quite vague as a concept when applied to digital transformation. At its core, embracing digital leadership means fostering a culture of innovation, encouraging continuous learning, and being open to change. 

‘When we analyse the findings, it is clear that leadership is a fundamental trait of the most innovative organisations, and this tends to coincide with greater individual confidence amongst employees. Digital leaders inspire the confidence to embrace new tools and methodologies, such as AI and advanced analytics, which can dramatically transform processes.’ 

ACCA members show a high level of trust in artificial intelligence (AI). 70% agreed with the statement ‘AI can increase the amount of time I have to focus on business-critical tasks’ – only 9% disagreed, with 15% neutral. They were less sure of the idea of AI performing business critical tasks (50% agreeing, 21% and 22% disagreeing or neutral) but even so the numbers reflected a sense of optimism.  

Although just under one-fifth report the implementation of AI within their organisation, and another 8% are trialling initiatives, there are clearly great aspirations and a considerable opportunity to leverage these new capabilities. 

Digital Horizons underlines the idea that the finance profession is well-situated to benefit from these technologies but realising their potential could require a mindset shift – thinking beyond mere efficiency gains towards a deeper understanding of value – as well as an adaptation of skills and practices.

Brisbourne said: ‘To a significant extent, AI is still thought about in terms of a gradual evolution of existing processes. From this perspective, the potential of AI is primarily in making the industry more efficient rather than thinking about how it could be fundamental to driving value related to new and existing demands.’

Basic AI literacy is key. Finance professionals must understand the capabilities, limitations and potential applications of AI within their specific domains. Marrying technical skill sets with strategic understanding will be essential to harness the true potential of technologies such as AI.