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Want to Know What AI Transformation Looks Like? Ask an Accountant

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Marketers are dying to know how AI will transform, enhance, or even eliminate their jobs.

Makes sense. Recent AI breakthroughs mean the tech can do way more, way faster than a lot of people anticipated.

But what this change is actually going to look like is still unclear to many marketers.

They know it's important. But they don't know what to do about it.

We've found it useful to analyze how other similar industries are grappling with AI. That gives us a decent guide to how firms think about AI. And it tells us what kinds of changes to expect.

One industry that caught our eye is accounting.

Accounting requires client-facing work backed by data-driven back-end analysis. It's a balance of people-pleasing and number-crunching. Cognitive skills and tech tools are combined to create value.

At a high level, this is a lot like marketing. Marketers combine cognitive work with technology to produce outcomes. If you're at an agency, that outcome is for a client. If you're at a brand, it's for a consumer. In either case, people and machines are equally important to your work as a marketer.

Just like accounting.

That's why we dove into this Sage study on accounting with such interest. It surveyed 3,000 accountants about their use of artificial intelligence (among other topics).

It gave us some insights into how AI will impact the marketers just down the hall from the accounting department.

Intelligent Automation Is the First Immediate Use Case

Accountants, first and foremost, are looking to AI to automate lots of tedious administrative tasks. According to the Sage study, 66% of accountants surveyed say they would invest in AI if it could automate repetitive and time-consuming tasks.

In accounting, there are a ton of activities that are candidates for automation. That includes stuff like assigning bank statement entries with codes, analytics and report creation, and practice management.

Says Sage, “Automating these processes makes complete business sense. With the time consuming, repetitive tasks handled by AI accountants’ time will be freed up to engage in more creative activities–such as consulting with clients or growing their business.”

Same goes for marketing in our opinion.

Marketers are generally oversubscribed. Even strategists and high-level talent get pulled into mind-numbing administrative tasks, especially at smaller firms. These tasks distract from the mission-critical and performance-driving campaigns that marketers should be focused on.

Expect accountants and marketers alike to embrace any AI that takes some of the load off—and enables them to focus on the people, practices, and performance that matter.

Prediction and Prescription Could Be Huge

Automation is the first use case. But the real potential of AI is in prediction and prescription. The Sage report details how AI could be used in accounting to predict client cash flow, prescribe actions that accountants should take, and even predict and prescribe to manage the accountant’s business.

We’re a little ways off from this future. But it shows what’s possible with AI:

AI might not just automate your work. It may actively enhance and augment it.

In marketing, we’re seeing glimpses of this already. Tools that predict which leads are most likely to close. Systems that predict which content will perform best given historical engagement.

Prescription is a little trickier: We’re not there yet. The day when an AI system tells marketers what actions to take with a high degree of accuracy is the day when AI becomes not just transformative, but entirely disruptive.

Get Ready for Machine Assistants (and Colleagues)

The Sage report mentions that the company has already created the world’s first AI-powered smart assistant for accounting. The assistant “can keep a realtime account of expenses, track incoming payments, and automatically balance books.”

The more individuals interact with the system, the more intelligent it gets. The goal is “invisible accounting,” says Sage. The idea is that you engage organically with an AI assistant to solve problems. Instead of remembering complicated terminology or theory, you can ask the assistant “How much money do I have?” or “How much am I owed?” and get the answer.

“It abandons accounting terminology and concepts that have been used for centuries. The user has no need to be aware of double-entry bookkeeping, for example.”

That doesn’t mean professionals don’t need to be highly trained. Just that their cognition can be reapplied to higher-value tasks machines can’t do, like acting as a client’s trusted advisor in a range of situations.

We’re seeing this approach increasingly enter the world of marketing.

AI assistants like GrowthBot answer user queries about website and competitor performance. Google Analytics uses machine learning to surface important insights from your website data, so you don’t have to go looking for them.

We’re moving into an area where you won’t need to memorize all the methodologies and metrics, but rather query a machine, then use that information to make decisions.

This is the critical part:

For both accountants and marketers, they will create value differently than in the past.

In the past, the job was a collection of actions that only a human could perform. Which meant output, speed, and quality were key.

In the age of AI, these things still matter. But it’s going to be way more important for both accountants and marketers to create value higher up the chain. Not just by producing outputs, but by creating outcomes for clients, customers, and internal stakeholders.

We suspect the professionals that do the best will be those who find ways to work with machine systems to create more value than humans alone.

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