How to start using AI in your accounting firm

Some accountants fear AI could take their jobs, but AI in accounting can actually help them do their jobs better. Find out how.️

minute read

Last Updated April 12, 2024

Category Tech trends

A woman sits smiling in front of a laptop, talking on the phone because AI in accounting just helped her complete a task more efficiently.


Someone in your firm is probably scared of artificial intelligence (AI). It might be one of your employees. It might even be you.  

That’s OK, but it’s no reason to reject adopting AI. With a friendly introduction to the technology and a few use cases, you can find ways to improve your firm by using AI in accounting.  

Firms aren’t quite sure yet what to do with AI. That’s not unusual for a rapidly developing technology that only recently hit the scene. A recent Rightworks survey revealed that 65% of accountants said they were only slightly comfortable or not comfortable at all using AI in their firms. 

Respondents also noted that they don’t know much about AI yet. Almost 70% of accountants said they were only slightly knowledgeable about AI or not knowledgeable about it at all. 

Again, that’s normal at this stage. For most users, AI still looks like a fun piece of technology that can produce impressive, if goofy, images and write quick synopses of historical events.  

But some in the accounting profession reveal that it looks like a tool that will replace them someday…and possibly soon. In one study, 31% of “individual contributors”—aka employees—at firms said they were concerned that AI would replace the role of the accountant 

Here’s something to ease their minds: It won’t. In fact, if anything, it will make their jobs easier and more satisfying.  

Is all this talk of AI just hype? 

We’ve been here before, haven’t we? Remember the blockchain? This distributed database technology was supposed to change our lives as soon as we “put everything” on it, whatever that meant. As it turns out, the blockchain is very much in use. However, it largely resides in the world of cryptocurrencies, which, deserved or not, still have something of a shady reputation.   

Blockchain hype was heavy for a while, particularly in the 2010s, but the technology never really impacted daily life. AI is different. It’s everywhere. Consumers of all ages are talking about it—and they’re using it, too. University professors report that they know their students are using AI to write papers, but they can’t prove it. Social media is flooded with crisply written posts from bot accounts; those are often the product of AI. And no one can ignore the realistic but slightly goofy images the technology produces. They’re mainstream now.  

More is coming, and everyone knows it. Unlike the blockchain, AI has already worked its way into the daily lives of most Americans, and it has certainly piqued people’s curiosity. And it is taking some jobs, with 37% of companies saying they replaced workers with AI in 2023 and 44% saying they’ll do so in 2024. But is AI taking accounting jobs? 

Talk to your employees about AI in accounting 

A woman sits in front of a laptop, looking concerned about how AI could affect her accounting job.
Find one or a small group of employees to “own” AI and help educate staff.

Again, the answer in most (possibly all) cases is no. People control AI in accounting, not the other way around. Yes, AI can help speed and automate certain processes, but it can’t serve clients, reliably analyze data or really do the essential work of accounting. Accountants will still need to do all of that. Client service is especially important, with clients asking for more services from firms and faster response time.

The way to approach implementing AI is to give someone in your firm ownership of it or to take control of it yourself. An individual or a small team needs to “own” AI. That means you’ll need to invest in training for your designated experts and give them the autonomy to make decisions using their newfound expertise. This person or team will also need to be well-liked and trusted by your other employees. They need to have credibility. 

As for communicating with all your employees, tell them to think of AI as an assistant—something that enables them rather than replaces them. Properly used, that’s exactly what AI is. When you use it to automate processes, speed tasks and take manual or time-consuming work away from employees, you relieve employees of some of their more burdensome chores. You also give them time to do the work they enjoy…or to go home early. AI is a tool that delivers work-life balance rather than a pink slip. 

What can an accounting firm do with AI? 

Two women stand while consulting over a laptop, one of them showing how AI has helped her jumpstart a client letter she needs to write.
Using AI in your firm can help you jumpstart your client advisory services.

If AI in accounting is so great, what can your firm do with it? The more obvious tasks are simple but useful: writing proposal letters to clients, marketing emails, welcome emails and other common forms of communication.  

But there are also accounting-specific tasks AI can help with. Here, the idea isn’t to have AI do work for you, but to help you get started and take the work from there.  

Take this hypothetical: You have an optometry client making $500,000 a year. The client has a spouse and two children. The client is part of a real estate partnership that holds the building for the optometry practice, and there’s an S corporation. 

You want to know the 10 best tax planning ideas for this client. You can go to an AI tool, type your information in at a prompt, and get 10 ideas almost instantaneously. It’s up to you, then, to choose which ideas you decide to present to the client and determine how best to carry them out. But AI gives you a boost to get your project started. Instead of stewing over ideas for hours or days, you can get a jumpstart with AI. (One word of caution, however: Don’t plug any of your clients’ actual data into an AI engine. Use generic numbers and don’t enter a name.) 

How can you prepare your firm for AI in accounting? 

AI runs on information. It takes data in and reproduces it in a coherent format. Without information, there is nothing for AI to reproduce. Tools such as ChatGPT crawl the entire internet for data, which means they can sometimes produce inaccurate results. So, be careful, and be sure to validate any facts or information you get from ChatGPT.  

But AI tools also exist that can make your internal data crawlable and searchable away from the broader internet. That’s why having your data in order is so important. Most firms have data scattered in all sorts of places—emails, various servers, the cloud, maybe even on paper or on portable drives.  

If you’re going to make AI work for you, your data needs to be in one location. Any AI tool you use will only work as well as the data you feed into it. Having your data organized and accounted for is essential.  

The best way to make sure your data is available is to run applications and store data in the cloud. You can trust a cloud provider to securely store your data and keep it available virtually all the time. Running in the cloud has other benefits, too, but it’s the fastest and most efficient way to get your data ready for adopting AI in accounting.  

Spark from Rightworks is AI built for accounting  

An image of the Rightworks Spark logo.
Rightworks built Spark specifically for accounting.

Rightworks built its AI tool, Spark, specifically for accounting firms. It offers advantages for the profession that ChatGPT can’t (and doesn’t try to) match. Spark can provide responses to queries with accounting-specific information that’s more targeted and reliable than what a broad-based AI tool can offer.  

Plus, Spark offers more certainty around data security. Depending on your subscription level with ChatGPT, it’s possible—even likely—that the information you provide in your prompts could become ingested into ChatGPT’s larger language model (LLM). It could then potentially be included in a response to another user’s question in the future.  

Spark uses a different set of rules for the use of data, ensuring that your information doesn’t become part of the LLM. As a result, Spark offers security and privacy that are not always present within the original ChatGPT.  

Spark comes with pre-built prompts that give accountants a jumping-off point into using the tool. Spark also includes personas that offer virtual expertise in various roles, including firm owner, client relations, human resources and marketing. You can create your own personas as well.  

You can even plug your own internal documentation into the Spark library and make it safely searchable inside the tool. That’s one big reason why having your data in order is so important. In fact, you can take documentation from anywhere on the internet and plug it into your Spark content library.  

Firms need to embrace AI in accounting  

Accountants don’t need to fear AI. With the right introduction and some practical applications, they can quickly embrace it. The key is to educate employees on what it does and how to use it, and to have someone on the team own it and show them why AI will help them rather than replace them.

The hype around AI is legitimate; it’s part of our lives now. It’s part of accounting now, too. And the firms that want to work more efficiently and be leaders in the profession will use it frequently and wisely. 

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