How AI, like ChatGPT, Impacts the Role of CPAs

Understanding how Artificial intelligence (AI) works and the data it requires to function can seem intimidating. Like any new technology, AI needs time and perseverance before its problem-solving skills can be used. For CPAs, AI adoption will be worth the effort.

We recently chatted with Erin Kelly, CPA, CMA, and President and CEO of Advanced Symbolics Inc., a global company that uses AI for market research, communications, ad tracking and sales prediction. She shared insights from her career journey including most recently how AI, like ChatGPT, will change the accounting profession and how CPAs can accelerate the adoption of AI within their organizations.

Headshot of Erin Kelly in white jacket and colourful shirt

Where did you start your career and how did you get to where you are today?

My first job was at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). When I was a student at the University of Toronto, I wrote for the student paper and one of my stories was picked up by the CBC. I worked with them on it, and they offered me a summer job. While there, I introduced them to the concept of the World Wide Web. And six months after I graduated from university, I created the first website for CBC news called “CBC Newsworld Online”. I also created the first website in North America with streaming video through a startup I founded in Israel. From there, I headed into the world of online data.

What interests you in the AI space?

There is tremendous value in entering a nascent industry. There are no experts in the early days, only explorers, and you tend to find small, supportive communities who are learning and sharing together. And eventually you become the expert! It is still a great time to enter AI because it is still new. The more mature an industry is when you enter, the more history you need to study to get up to speed with people who started before you. It’s much more fun to be part of the build.

What is the biggest misconception about AI?

The biggest misconception is that AI is something to fear. I think people don’t realize the life-saving and career-enhancing potential of AI. And when something brings a lot of benefit, it will be adopted whether you are on board or not. As they say in my favourite TV show, Star Trek: “Resistance is futile.” So get on board.

How is AI impacting the accounting profession? 

I think the biggest opportunities right now for CPAs are in forecasting and data modelling. Unfortunately, right now it does risk leaving some CPAs behind because MBAs and other business professionals seem to be adopting AI faster, and this is being noticed. I think there is some fear that AI is going to take away CPA jobs. It will replace some functions in the future but for strategic CPAs it will make them more successful. Models like ChatGPT will make it easier than ever to use AI tools. But you still have to understand the limits of such tools. ChatGPT works off prompts. If your prompt is wrong, your data will be as well. You still need to know what you are doing.

How can CPAs accelerate adoption of AI in their organizations?

Start with the forecasting and revenue generating side. That is what is most interesting to executives. You have to make the money before you can count it! Don’t shy away from the front of the business. Bring these tools to the marketing and sales teams and show them you can add value there. Then you bring added value by hooking it into the accounting system on the back end.

How can CPAs stay up to date on the latest advancements related to technology and AI?

I think the best way is to actually start and take a leadership position with a new project. AI is very cost effective now. Start a small project and grow with it. Yes, you will make mistakes, but this is a good time to make mistakes when everyone else is learning too and there aren’t many experts. It will be much harder later when everyone else has leapt ahead. Dive in early when everyone else is learning too. Take the initiative and suggest a project to your boss or peers.

Rapid fire 

  • Best piece of advice you’ve ever received: Put family first
  • Book or podcast that you recommend: I actually prefer written word so I can speed read to the nuggets. I like The Information (subscription) and Morning Brew (free)
  • If I wasn’t a CPA, I would be a: Genetic Engineer

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