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'AI is good, but EI is better', says CEO of IPA

The implications of artificial intelligence (AI) on the accounting industry are being mulled over by professionals Australia-wide, but the CEO of the IPA believes that the danger is being inflated and that emotional intelligence will always trump computers.

'AI is good, but EI is better', says CEO of IPA
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  • Maja Garaca Djurdjevic
  • December 23, 2019
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A big conversation is being waged around the movement of AI and what it’s going to mean for the accounting profession in the years to come, but according to the CEO of the Institute of Public Accountants (IPA), Andrew Conway, AI is “just another tool”.

Not wanting to be dismissive of the threat of AI, Mr Conway said on the sidelines of the body’s national congress in Adelaide, that the dangers of AI are “overblown” in terms of the impact it is going to have on the eradication of the accounting profession.

“There are a lot of doomsayers saying, AI is coming, it’s going to wipe out the profession. There were articles recently saying that in 20 years, accounting jobs as we know them won’t exist,” said Mr Conway.

“I’m a bit more glass full than that, in fact a lot more glass full, because the accounting profession has been around as we know for hundreds of years and we’ve evolved with different tools and resources and in my view the evolution of AI is just another tool.”

He explained that AI is yet another wave of evolution, like the many before it, and that accountants need to be part of the conversation.

“I found a quote from back in 1959 that said the automation and information technology changes will eradicate the accounting profession. That was in 1959. Now, that hasn’t happened. We’ve evolved, we’ve proven time after time that we can evolve and we will,” noted Mr Conway.

He judged that while AI may be good, EI is better. 

“I think it’s this connection between Yes, AI is good, but emotional intelligence or EI is better. And it comes back to the point of why does a person engage an accountant? Fundamentally they engage them because they are trusted and they engage them to see the whites of the eyes,” said Mr Conway.

“When you’re sitting opposite a client who says to you, as the accountant, ‘What should I do?, they expect an honest response. Now, you have all the information at your fingertips in terms of the AI, computer dashboards and all that wonderful stuff, but when it comes back to it, it’s a human interaction that no algorithm can replace.”

He explained that AI will enable accountants to have more information at their fingertips faster and that this will give way to the proliferation of new, smaller practices.

“As people gain better access and more ready access to information through things like AI, they'll be able to have richer conversations in a far more efficient way. So they're going to have all the infrastructure of a large firm, but the bespoke element of sitting opposite the table with a client, one-on-one, in a client’s meeting room is what the client is going to buy in the future,” said Mr Conway.

Mr Conway encouraged accountants to be upfront and talk openly about the changing face of accounting.

He revealed that numerous IPA members have already made the change and have over a period of years become genuine business coaches.

“It’s about using all the accounting knowledge and the skills around the conceptional framework, all those skills about judgment and scepticism that we get trained in, from a technical point of view, and then applying that in a human context,” Mr Conway concluded. 

“That’s the capacity of us, being able to transition from the technician into the coach. We’ve proved we can do it and we will do it. We are already doing it. I think for us, it’s that sense of realising that the technology that’s being used now is enabling richer conversations.”

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