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Forget AI: It’s time to be human

Finance professionals must see automation and AI as a means to an end, not the end itself. With time freed up and valuable data at hand, accountants must learn to develop their communication skills and meet the rest of the business face-to-face.

Forget AI: It’s time to be human
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Do you remember not having a washing machine? Not that long ago the simple task of doing the laundry was a laboriously tedious task that took hours to complete.

The washing machine was labelled as one of the best inventions from the 20th century industrial revolution by Cambridge economist Ha-Joon Chang.

The effect that the washing machine had on households was astounding. It gave us more time, more freedom and a lot less backache.

The accounting sphere has been undergoing a similar change with automation and AI slowly changing our approach to manual data.

Does this mean AI is taking over your finance role, or is there an opportunity to be embraced?

Five years ago, the first few hours of my day was spent sorting piles of paperwork. I would put receipts into order, organising the purchases and ensuring correct pages of the bank statements were there (often they weren’t), but now all of that manual work can be done with a scanner.

With documents automatically uploaded into our accounting software, we’re very close to eliminating data entry altogether.

Just imagine what changes will come over the next five years. Should we be running scared?

Accounting has been labelled as one of the professions that will be most affected by machine learning.

But that doesn’t mean that you will become obsolete.

AI might be ‘intelligent’, however there are a range of skills that it just can’t compute or compete with.

We’re only human…

Machines are only just able to compete with the level of transactions the human brain processes – by way of complex algorithms.

What they cannot do (yet) is compete with those innate human qualities such as empathy, communication and vision.

Robots can tell us what the figures are, but only you will be able to say why. Your job of analysing the transactions and giving them context is why your clients will need you.

Accountancy is one of the last professions remaining where you can have a pivotal impact on the success of your business, or that of others.

Every financial transaction is a human one, and can be assessed and actions taken based on that analysis.

When I was a child, my mother had a cartoon framed in her office. It read: ‘To err is human. To really mess things up takes a computer.’

Human nature, whether to err or to empathise, will become the most valuable skill of all.

With machines taking over the manual work, how can you make the most of your human abilities?

Innovative thinking

Innovation is that fancy way of saying you need to get creative and explore vision.

Many people in the finance industry think they are not creative, however being creative is a skill that you can learn.

  • Every time you come up with the new strategy, or identify a solution for a problem that wasn’t apparent, you are being creative.
  • Start writing down 10 ideas every morning in a journal. They don’t have to be great ideas, just an idea. Get the creative ball rolling.

Build your vision

  • Vision is a quality looked for in leadership as it’s all about goal setting.
  • Every outcome needs to have a start and an end point; the rest are stepping stones that take you from A to B. Professional sports players use visualisation techniques to help them achieve goals, as it creates a positive reaction in their muscle memory. If they can see it happening, the outcome is more likely to take place.
  • Visualise your goals, and play each step of your achievement through to create a higher probability.

Emotional intelligence

  • Having a high emotional quotient will become one of the most defining traits from the digital revolution. Being able to empathise will not only help you build relationships, but will also help you with change management, stakeholder relationships and growth mindset.
  • Before an interaction, for instance delivering an end-of-year financial report to the board, ask yourself what are the main objectives of the people in the room? Evaluate their body language, tone of voice, and ask yourself what they’d like to achieve from the meeting.
  • Being aware of other people’s emotions helps give insight so that you can deliver higher value outcomes.

Presentation skills

  • Information about running a business is everywhere. Advice is a noisy space, which means that credibility and trust are even more valuable. Decisions are made on brand values, and they should reflect your personal values.
  • Presentation skills look at how you come across to other people. As humans we make snap judgements and have short attention spans so you need to have effective physical communication skills that help you engage with an audience.
  • Start to think about your voice, tone, body language and stance. How are you coming across to people? Are you using these tools effectively?

These days it’s not just what you say but how you say it that keeps us listening.

Alexandra Bond is a speaking coach at Bond Ambition. She is also founder and MD of Blue Arrow Accounting.

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