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How AI & ML impact people, performance and processes

Written on May 1, 2020

By Abigail Draper, OSCPA communication & engagement manager

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are here to stay, an expert said, so CPAs must begin to adapt to this new technology and learn how it can make businesses more efficient and improve their processes.

Chris Ortega, director of finance at Emarsys, presented Oct. 29 at the Cleveland Accounting Show on how AI and ML will impact people, performance and processes, especially in the financial industry.

“Technology is not here to take people’s jobs,” Ortega said. “It allows us to reevaluate and repurpose people’s skills. It’s here to answer the question, ‘What’s the most efficient way we can get things done?’”

If a company does start using AI for something such as billing, Ortega said, then his approach would be to determine what the billing personnel like most about their jobs (i.e., routine, process and working with customers) and figure out where else they can use those same skills and bring additional value to the company.

Instead of convening meetings to determine a company’s budget, financial leaders will eventually be able to conduct electronic A/B testing to determine spending decisions without human interaction. Instead of figuring out a budget for just one year, the algorithm would project the next three years.

Ortega said one of the sectors using this technology best is investment banking, which he said is a “gold mine” for AI and ML. He said many people, including himself, have not visited a physical bank in years, preferring to do their banking online or via an app.

Robotic bank advisers have been ascendant in recent years. Assets managed by robo-advisers in billions equaled $47.3 in 2015, $98.5 in 2016 and is predicted to reach $460 by 2022.

This technology is here to stay, Ortega said, and “companies who are able to leverage AI and ML will have a significant advantage over the competition.”

How do you begin implementing AI and ML? Ortega said you must start with a road map that includes a short-term (3-6 months), medium-term (12-18 months) and long-term (18+ months) plan.

Businesses also need 10+ years of data, massive amounts of data, a machine learning algorithm and a process to keep testing that algorithm. It won’t happen overnight, but accountants might be the ones best equipped to take on the challenge.

“What functional team is more qualified to implement AI than finance professionals?” He asked. “We deal with data every day.”