The Impact of AI

July 22, 2019

The Impact of AI

By Anthony Pugliese, CPA, CGMA, CITP
In my opinion, artificial intelligence (AI) will have a profound impact on the accounting and finance profession within the next 10 years. What do I mean by AI? PwC broadly defines AI as “a collective term for computer systems that can sense their environment, think, learn and take action in response to what they’re sensing and their objectives.”

AI will disrupt many of our profession’s models, while overturning or marginalizing many others. The profession must be more proactive with respect to AI and increase its competencies around the use of such advanced technologies. Newly minted CPAs must enter the workplace with AI skills and knowledge about how it can be leveraged in their roles.

According to Robert Half’s Jobs and AI Anxiety report, “while managers expect they will have to learn new skills to manage new technologies, many view AI and robotics as helpers and opportunity-makers.” 

In other words, they do not see these technologies replacing the workforce; rather, they see them as bringing opportunity to the workforce by helping them to be more productive, efficient and strategic.

Amidst growing business complexity and competition, CPAs must expand their knowledge to remain relevant in the future—and the present. Why? Because AI is already having a significant impact on business and society. So grab your virtual or augmented reality goggles and take notice. AI can assist the profession as a neural-net, algorithm powered co-worker to analyze data, uncover hidden patterns and correlations, make decisions, predict actions and influence strategy. All while making a positive contribution to society and the bottom line.

What is our profession’s role in this opportunity? We can ride the AI wave and be fully engaged, or we can let that wave pass by, risking our future relevance, value and role as trusted business advisors and protectors of the public interest. This may be a little exaggerated, but it makes my point: Start learning about AI in accounting and finance NOW! Anticipate how AI will impact the services you provide, the skills you will need, the actions you will perform and the value you will deliver to clients or employers. This will help you build a foundation today that will better position you in the near future.

We’re not only talking about automation here. Yes, robotic process automation (RPA) is being used in accounting and finance, but AI encompasses so much more and firms should be cautious jumping into AI technologies before understanding how they work.

AI technologies such as rules-based expert systems and RPA solutions are more transparent in how they work; however, they also have limitations in that neither is capable of learning and improving by itself—the human element is crucial there.

In contrast, deep-learning solutions are capable of learning from vast data sets, but due to their complex algorithms inside the “black box,” it’s also nearly impossible for us to understand how these more cognitive solutions work. It’s almost impossible to understand how it creates the models it does. Opacity or lack of transparency in these types of AI solutions can lead to bigger challenges, not the least of which could be bias in the analytics or the inability of regulators to understand what’s going on.

But be that as it may, AI is here to stay and becoming more tightly integrated into business and society. AI is being used to varying degrees in many sectors and industries. Its potential economic impact suggests to me that the speed with which AI is adopted across sectors and industries will need to grow exponentially in some areas, which could include accounting and finance.

This impact will be driven by three key factors: productivity gains realized by businesses automating more processes that were previously very heavily human-led (e.g., use of RPA in accounting and finance); productivity gains from businesses enhancing their existing labor force through assisted and augmented intelligence (e.g., using AI for predictive and prescriptive analytics to drive insight and business strategy); and increased demand for products, services and experiences enhanced by AI (e.g., prescriptive competency assessments for CPAs driving their demand for personalized, relevant learning programs to fill knowledge/skill gaps).

Our profession must be equipped to take advantage of AI technology and positively contribute to the economic impact foreseen by technology experts and economists. It’s certainly our opportunity to seize—or lose. I prefer the former.  

CalCPA and its competency and learning team will be offering AI-focused programs and resources to help our members and customers grow their skills and raise their comfort level with the technologies. In what areas would you like AI or technology related education and training? In my opinion, that would be excellent input! Email us at
Anthony Pugliese, CPA, CGMA, CITP is CEO of CalCPA and CalCPA Education Foundation.

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