Key takeaways from the AICPA and CPA.com AI Symposium
Generative AI has burst onto the scene, quickly becoming a mainstream phenomenon and bringing with it lots of excitement and an equal amount of anxiety. Last week AICPA and CPA.com hosted the first ever AI Symposium, a fully subscribed event that brought together firm and finance leaders, standard setters, thought leaders, solution providers and technologists to share insights and use cases around what could wind up being the most transformative technology of our lifetime. The event is part of a broader, more comprehensive initiative to help practitioners demystify and unpack this emerging technology specifically in the context of accounting and finance.
Here are five takeaways from the event that every accounting and finance professional should consider as they develop their own AI strategies.
- Firms are already experimenting with the technology in internal use cases. CPAs are leaning into AI and pioneering innovative applications to enhance their internal processes and create efficiencies. The ability to continually process large amounts of data at high-speed means CPAs can enable real-time decision-making. Generative AI (a type of AI) pushes past simple task automation to autonomous workflows with human control. For example, trainable bots can contact an accounts payable clerk to review the tasks the AI has completed and address potential problems it has uncovered. Firms are experimenting with AI-driven internal research tools so they can identify training needs and develop effective prompts for user queries.
- It's clear AI has the potential to transform entire practice areas. Audit is one area where AI offers enormous potential. The Dynamic Audit Solution (DAS), a significant initiative led by the AICPA, CPA.com, Caseware and a large cohort of firms, is an audit workflow tool that uses AI to reimagine audit methodology in accordance with standards. Examples of ways firms can use AI in audits include using it to transcribe and search interview transcripts from client meetings, developing or leveraging chatbots that answer questions on standards and guidance, and employing data analytics in outlier detection.
But it’s not only the audit that’s poised for transformation. We’ve heard from several firms who were using AI to enhance their capabilities across tax, accounting and finance functions. Marcum LLP, for example, launched AskMarcum.ai, a custom GenAI interface that employees can use at their desks and on their mobile devices. It was created for internal use to drive greater efficiencies in a secure environment.
- Standards and regulations are still taking shape. Initial efforts include the European Union AI Act, legislation expected to set a high bar for future policymaking, and a White House executive order that kicks off a standards setting for a U.S. federal approach to AI safety and security; addresses privacy, equity and civil rights concerns; and establishes protections for consumers, patients, students and workers, among other actions. In Congress, AI working groups are aiming to expand AI education among legislators and develop policy. There are not yet comprehensive rules or regulations domestically or globally. The accounting profession will be part of the discussion as the current patchwork becomes more consistent. The profession can play a key role in helping to educate policymakers on the business uses, benefits and risks associated with AI so that new rules reflect market realities and needs.
- Trust is more important than ever in an AI-powered world. While its initial uptake is impressive, there are several concerns with the use of AI, and GenAI specifically. Worries about privacy and intellectual property issues, inaccuracies, hallucinations and other limitations make it clear that trust will play a meaningful role in advancing AI use. As the most trusted professionals, CPAs are well positioned to provide assurance on AI-related issues. The AICPA Assurance Services Executive Committee is currently addressing the impact of the technology on financial statement audit and related assurance services by identifying key use cases and developing a framework of risks and controls that can be leveraged for audits and other assurance services where AI comes into play.
- Practitioners are seeking education and awareness. CPA.com has launched a multi-part generative AI initiative to demystify AI for accounting and finance professionals, providing tools and resources to help them build their understanding of GenAI and make informed decisions on deploying tools in a risk-averse way. In addition to the AI Symposium, the initiative includes an AI-specific cohort as part of the 2024 AICPA and CPA.com Startup Accelerator, as well as CPA.com’s GenAI toolkit, which provides an excellent starting point for educating oneself on AI in finance and accounting, complete with basic use cases that help bring the concept to life.
AI is already transforming the way accounting and finance professionals work with clients and perform their services. We look forward to building on the momentum of the symposium, with a special report in March that provides a compelling look at AI risks and opportunities, as well as other initiatives that help CPAs harness the power of AI. You can keep up with all the latest insights and resources at cpa.com/Gen-AI.