Technology & Innovation

3 ways accountants can use AI to free up time for client work

Discover a series of tasks you can use AI for at your practice, allowing you to have more time to spend adding value to your clients.

Generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools such as ChatGPT or DALL-E are still no match compared to humans when it comes to accounting.

Achieving only a 47.4% in its accounting exams, it seems ChatGPT won’t be popping the prosecco after an offer from the Big 4 any time soon.

That doesn’t mean AI is a write-off for the accounting profession. So, how could it be useful to an accountant today?

There are plenty of tasks that go into running an efficient practice where AI could help.

In this article, you’ll explore three ways AI can help carry the heavy load of running an accountancy practice and free up time, which can be spent on supporting clients.

Included are some practical prompts and ideas for you to get the ball rolling..

Here’s what we cover:

But first… what is AI?

At its core, AI seeks to replicate human cognitive functions in machines, enabling them to process large volumes of data, recognise patterns, make predictions, and adapt to changing circumstances.

AI systems can operate autonomously, learning from experience and continuously improving their performance without explicit programming.

AI is built on various subfields, including:

  1. Machine learning (ML): ML algorithms help computers analyse data and improve task performance over time. This is used for tasks such as image recognition and recommendation systems.
  2. Deep learning: A subset of ML, deep learning focuses on neural networks with multiple layers, which has been useful in image and speech recognition.
  3. Natural language processing (NLP): NLP allows machines to understand, interpret, and generate human language, essential for chatbots and text analysis.
  4. Computer vision: This enables machines to interpret visual information, crucial for facial recognition and object detection.
  5. Reinforcement learning: This helps agents learn sequences of decisions to maximise rewards, applied in robotics and game playing.

The most zeitgeisty AI at the moment is ChatGPT.

It’s primarily an application of NLP and uses deep learning techniques to understand and generate human-like text responses.

It’s designed for tasks related to text-based conversation, which makes it a handy tool for you to use in your marketing function as an accountant.

Now we’ve covered what AI is, let’s dive in and show you how you can use it at your practice.

1. Automate key accounting tasks

Incorporating AI into the day-to-day operations of your accountancy practice can significantly enhance efficiency and accuracy.

This will free up valuable time for you to focus on client consultations and value-added services.  

Automated data entry solutions that leverage AI can streamline the tedious task of inputting data into accounting software.

For example, you could choose a data entry tool that offers a practical application of AI to positively impact your daily workflow.

And, in turn, it will speed up your processes, reducing the load on you and your colleagues. 

By scanning, reading, and inputting data from bills, receipts, invoices, and bank and card statements, you can spend less time on manual tasks and more time supporting your clients.

Relying on AI and machine learning algorithms, the daily entry tool minimises the risk of human errors, meaning financial records have a greater chance of being precise and reliable.

This accuracy is crucial for maintaining the integrity of financial reporting and compliance.

And with scanned documents stored in a centralised, cloud-based location, your document management will be simplified.

This makes it easier for you and your team to retrieve and review documents as needed, enhancing organisation and efficiency within the practice.

Incorporating AI tools represents a forward-thinking approach to managing the workload of your practice.

By automating routine tasks, enhancing accuracy, and improving document management, you can dedicate more time to providing high-value services to your clients.

As the accountancy profession evolves, embracing AI technologies will be crucial to stay competitive and meet the changing needs of your clients.

2. Create social media content

It’s always best to start with the most obvious first.

Yes. You can use generative AI to create content for you.

Posting on LinkedIn and other social media can spook the best of us. Who hasn’t cringed their way through writing a humblebrag post? This is where AI can step in for you and get the ball rolling with your practice’s social media presence.

Will this content be the best? Maybe, maybe not… But let’s give it a whirl.

Here we fed ChatGPT the following prompt:

I am writing a post on LinkedIn to promote my accounting firm’s forecasting services. Write a post to market these services on LinkedIn, emphasising the benefits of forecasts for small businesses.

Here’s what ChatGPT came up with for us:

Title: “Unlock financial success with our forecasting services for small businesses 📈”

Are you a small business owner looking to secure your financial future? Our accounting firm’s forecasting services can help you do just that.

🌟 Benefit #1: Financial clarity—with accurate forecasts, you’ll gain a clear picture of your business’s financial health. No more financial surprises.

🌟 Benefit #2: Strategic planning—make informed decisions for your business’s growth and profitability. Our forecasts provide actionable insights.

🌟 Benefit #3: Risk mitigation—identify potential risks and opportunities early on, allowing you to navigate challenges and seize opportunities proactively.

Don’t leave your business’s financial success to chance. Contact us today to learn how our forecasting services can transform your small business into a thriving, financially secure venture. 🚀

#SmallBusiness #FinancialForecasting #AccountingServices

Not bad, right? In seconds you have a useful post that you can pop straight onto your practice’s social media.

Instead of struggling over words, you can get back to doing what you do best: supporting your clients.

However, be aware that there are advantages and disadvantages to using AI in this way.

  • Advantage 1: It’s quick and easy—it gets the job done
  • Disadvantage 1: It looks like AI. Once you know the telltale signs of AI you begin to see it everywhere. Posts are often formulaic, repetitive, and these emojis ⭐🚀📈 are all over AI content. So, at the very least… throw in a couple of these 💁‍♀️✨👏👌💅🙌
  • Advantage 2: It automates some writing processes that can be challenging for accountants
  • Disadvantage 2: Don’t get lazy. The content these engines produce is only as good as the briefs you give them. Be specific with your guidelines, always proofread, and remember that ChatGPT defaults to US spelling.
  • Advantage 3: AI platforms such as ChatGPT are often free to use or are very cheap.
  • Disadvantage 3: Humans are ultimately more creative, talented, witty, and humorous than an AI. If you want your posts to pop, you’re going to need to provide that human touch, meaning you might need to pay someone to create great content for you.

Complement AI use with expert support

AI can write content for you… but look at those disadvantages.

It may be best to use AI in a different way. It can be a great way, for example, to ignite creativity and get the ball rolling on your marketing plans.

If you are serious about your practice’s marketing function, you should consider supplementing AI content with hard-hitting content produced by freelance copy/content writers, marketing agencies, or social media managers.

3. Speed up existing marketing and communication tasks

How many times have you been asked the same questions in an initial client meeting?

Any of these sound familiar?

  • Should I be a sole trader or register as a limited company?
  • At what point do I need to register for VAT?
  • What is MTD?
  • How can I manage my cash flow better?

Why not use AI to help you prepare a blog or guide that answers these questions, which you can provide to your clients? 

Here are some essential prompts to use in an AI, plus a short explanation as to why it should be useful, to help you and your team speed up and improve communication tasks for your practice.

AI prompt: “Write 10 common questions small business owners ask their accountants in their first meeting.”

This list would make a great resource for you and your colleagues to have during an initial client meeting.

If the client doesn’t ask something on this list, bring it up yourself, it could present an opportunity for you to discuss the additional services you offer.

This could also be a great resource to share with junior colleagues to help them understand what to expect from clients in these meetings.

AI prompt: “I am writing an FAQ page for the website of my practice. What questions should I include?”

Creating a frequently asked questions (FAQ) page for your practice’s website is an excellent way to provide valuable information to your visitors as well as boosting your SEO (search engine optimisation).

The specific questions you should include will depend on your practice’s services and the common queries your clients or potential clients might have.

However, using an AI to help work out what questions to answer is a great place to start and will save you valuable research time.

AI prompt: “Write a follow-up email to a potential client to see if they still need my forecasting services.”

This prompt will save you time by using AI to help.

An email like this doesn’t need to be creative or have artistic flair. It needs to be direct, simple, and to the point.

Who better for the task than a machine?

AI prompt: “Write a short description of *this service* to use on my accountancy practice’s website.”

You may understand what management accounts, cash flow forecasting, and capital gains tax planning mean but do your clients fully understand these terms? Can you communicate your offerings without any accounting jargon?

It can be harder than it seems.

Consider using an AI to communicate as simply and effectively as possible.

AI prompt: “Can you check my spelling and grammar in this social media post?”

There are typos that somehow can only be seen once we have hit ‘send’.

By copy and pasting your social media posts and emails into an AI, you can quickly ensure that your words are doing what you want them to do: communicate clearly, effectively, and professionally.

Just be sure not to include any sensitive information in your AI requests.

Before you go, a word of warning

AI tools such as ChatGPT are game-changing for so many professions. They have the exciting potential to revolutionise the way we work.

Much like how the assembly line kicked production up a gear in the early 20th century, we’re going through our own productivity revolution 100 years on.

That said, these AI models have significant drawbacks.

  • Hallucinations: An AI hallucination occurs when an AI language model creates a plausible but factually inaccurate answer but presents it as if it were fact. The AI means well, but lacking logic and reasoning, it can veer off course in an effort to provide you with the answer you want.
  • Data: ChatGPT is trained on an enormous volume of data, but the information is only relevant up to 2021. While updates to rectify this issue are likely around the corner, if you want to research something that happened recently, then you’re going to have to do it yourself.
  • Plagiarism: We can’t be 100% sure how AI synthesises the data from other sources. We need to be wary as to whether text has been lifted word-for-word from other places.
  • Security risks: Using AI also carries security risks. The information you feed to the tool might be kept and used to retrain it. As a rule, you shouldn’t be entering any sensitive data relating to your practice or your clients on the system. Italy recently banned ChatGPT because of the storage and collection of users’ personal data to train the site’s algorithms. While the country has since lifted the ban after addressing issues raised by data protection regulators, you should always be wary with sensitive data.

Final thoughts on using AI at your practice

Accountants are bombarded with new challenges that jeopardise their most precious resource: time.

AI is a perfect tool to use to relieve the burden of time-consuming tasks that need executing.

Using AI language models to automate accounting tasks, help create content, and speed up existing processes seems like a sensible, useful, and effective way for you and your practice to jump aboard the AI bandwagon.

However, it’s also important to recognise the limitations of these tools.

Remember, the best research and language machine we have is the one between our ears. To achieve the best results, you need to ensure you use AI as a tool and not a solution.

Used correctly, AI has the potential to unlock your time so you can support your clients and ultimately grow your practice.

Editor’s note: This article was first published in December 2023 and has been updated for relevance.