Advice & Best PracticeCommentFeatures

Is artificial intelligence the stress relief you’ve been looking for?

If you’ve not yet listened to the ACCA’s podcast ‘Machine learning: more science than fiction’ then I recommend you do. There’s a lot of food for thought. It explores a number of themes from ethics to skills and there are some good insights to structure business development around. It will help you consolidate what you know and what you don’t know into an organised view of AI and accounting in the future.

A stand out stat for me is that 58% of people believe AI will be a reality in three years’ time. I was surprised by that figure. Mainly because it is already here, yet it seems not many of us are aware we’re using AI or being involved in its development.

We can’t develop AI and automation without people – our own journey into AI software development highlighted very early on that if we were to be successful then we had to include the whole team. We risked alienating a loyal workforce if we thrust AI and automation upon them.

Now our development is increasingly accountant lead. If they spot a process that could be automated then we will work on making it happen – some things take months, some take hours but collectively they add value to our team and our clients. As a result, we are more efficient, and our accountants have time to provide micro advisory services to clients – help them plan and form a strategy.

More than this, constantly improving and automating the small problems has resulted in a big change in the cultural dynamic. We weren’t ever a company that used the word stress but there were certainly times of the year when the pressure was heightened, and hours were longer than usual. However, by pursing our strategic pillar of real-time accounting, work-loads are more evenly spread, meaning our team can take a holiday in January. That’s unheard of in accountancy.

As a leader, I have taken the mental health at work warnings seriously and it was brought into sharper focus during Mental Health Awareness week in May. As such, I’m acutely aware we have a responsibility to every employee to ensure they have a working environment that is positive, supportive and challenging in such a way that people are motivated by it not drained.

We have a role in helping them manage their lives and therefore their wellbeing, and by virtue, that of their family. Flexible working is a part of this, making sure there is healthy food and drink available, and training for our annual 10k run all help. But we are realising now how technology can do more to help with our wellbeing goals.

We’re now firmly on a path to exploit automation and AI to free our team from the shackles of a computer and compliance. I want our people to choose to invest in themselves within working hours because they have the time to. It’s often been easier said than done when it comes to CPD. I want it to be done.

But it’s not just keeping up to date with the numbers that’s of interest. We’re already delivering softer skills courses, which are hugely popular. It’s rounded development, which sets us up to be the advisory firm of the future.

With the introduction of flexible working, and the benefits of automation, we’re finding the team are leaving earlier to spend more time with the children, fit in a run, or take an evening class and still completing the job to high standards and learning too.

It’s been hugely refreshing and brilliant to watch and reassured me technology is a way to help beat stress when used in a context like this. The more our industry does to embrace this the more energetic we will be, the more we will thrive and the more we will all gain.

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