Explained: How machine learning is entering the accountancy mainstream

A new report from ACCA reveals the accounting profession needs to prepare for digital development.

A new report from the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) called “Machine learning: more science than fiction”, highlights how new tech developments have a massive potential for the accountancy profession. 

The report focuses on the ability of computers to ‘learn’ and make decisions or predictions based on analysis of large sets of data, aka machine learning. 

Narayanan Vaidyanathan, the report’s author and head of business insights at ACCA says: 

“Machine learning is a critical area of development for accountants. Looking ahead it will be crucial to understand its value and benefits, as well as the ethical challenges it presents. In all this, the starting point has to be a legitimate business need with a clear understanding of what it can bring to the organisation.” 

He says that the accountancy profession needs to understand how AI and machine learning works, how it is evolving and be alert to how the developing capabilities could overlap with their impact on their roles.  

AI and machine learning can add value to the work accountants do – from generating valuable insights for business decision-making, to fraud detection, risk assessment, understanding complexities in taxation and also with more effective non-financial reporting. 

“As with any technology, with power comes responsibility,” says Narayanan. “In the case of machine learning ethical considerations are never far away. Accountants need to consider and manage potential ethical compromise from decision-making by algorithm, such as the risk of bias in the data set that feeds them and the issue of accountability for decisions made.”

ACCA is examining a range of digital topics within its Masters-level ACCA Qualification, ensuring digital is weaved into members’ continuous professional development and has enhanced the digital content across many of the exams for students to prepare for the digital future. 

Narayanan Vaidyanathan concludes: 

“Machine learning’s entrance into the accountancy mainstream is a huge opportunity, where professional accountants have the chance to develop a core understanding of emerging technologies, while continually building their interpretive, contextual and relationship-led skills. They can then truly benefit from the ability of technologies like machine learning to support them with intelligent analysis of vast amounts of data.”