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How AI & Chat GPT Are Disrupting Accounting Functions

Explore the impact of AI and Chat GPT on accounting and finance with Nicolas Boucher, the founder of the AI Finance Club founder

Imogen Allen

Transcript
Rob Brown:

Artificial Intelligence, ChatGPT. It's going to make the accounting and finance function obsolete. Right, Nicholas? Well, I heard a lot of people saying that and maybe some people said that when Excel came also, and I totally disagree. it's a tool that is going to allow us in finance, make less robotic stuff and actually do more human stuff. And that's why, I believe that if we take it the right way, it's AI is going to help us bring more value to the CFOs to the management, to be closer also to our business partners. Because. You can let now the machine do more and more data crunching and you can take more

Nicolas Boucher:

time spending understanding the business.

Rob Brown:

I'm here with the Accounting Influencers Podcast and Nicholas Boucher, who is an FP& A, finance expert with a very keen interest in artificial intelligence and chart GPT. Nicholas, welcome to the show. Tell us how the accounting and finance function is changing at the moment, because a lot is happening.

Nicolas Boucher:

Yes, we, we have gone through the wave of digital transformation. Uh, I think now it's not even a project anymore. It's like continuous, uh, changing to, to use more and more the tools to help us. I think the job of accounting, it's much more demanding than before. An accountant needs to not only be specialized in accounting payable, but also be able to, uh, to do a receivable, to do tax, to do general ledger, to do, uh, to help also management. And maybe as a story, uh, two, three years ago, I was in charge of a team in, uh, for a factory. And I took over the team and some of the people were doing the same thing since 15 years and they were afraid when I told them, well, now, because the team is going down and because we are, um, uh, reducing down and because we are going to use more help of technology and more help of central services. You are going to have the chance, and I use the word chance, to do other processes in accounting, like, uh, tax, like receivables, like also general ledger, and they were really afraid at the beginning, and two months in, they were so excited because they were back at learning, they Understanding things that before didn't make sense because they couldn't see the full cycle of accounting. And when I left, they actually thanked me to give them the chance to learn new things, even though they were already experienced in what they were doing.

Rob Brown:

When you remember mathematics from school, we have the Venn diagrams, the circle and the overlapping circles. If we look at accounting and finance as two functions, talk to us about how you feel they overlap and blend into each other.

Nicolas Boucher:

Yeah, it's funny because depending on the language and depending on the countries, you like in French, for example,

Rob Brown:

Yes.

Nicolas Boucher:

It's quite mixed. If you talk about finance, you talk about everything. If I talk with my friends in the US, controlling is really like the super accountant who is really close to the CFO. If you talk to Germans, uh, controlling is like really SAP driven. So you have like a clear separation between Accounting is, uh, the finance module in SAP and controlling is more close to, uh, budgeting and industry. And so it's really hard to answer to this question without knowing the semantics behind. I will say like on my side, I see the finance more as the finance function and accounting as a part of the finance function. I don't see that as two separated words.

Rob Brown:

Finance professionals, do they usually have an accounting qualification or not always?

Nicolas Boucher:

So, I know some people don't have it because they came maybe from other background and I think for a while it was kind of, uh, The last, yeah, maybe like five, 10 years, it was kind of not sexy to, to have done an accounting background. And I know now that because of complexity coming back and IFRS and USGAP and a lot of topics coming back also at people who want to have a management skills. If you don't have an accounting background, you don't really speak the language of figures. And I think, and I've seen people really struggle if they don't have an accounting background. So, I will suggest that you can go to finance without accounting background, but you should catch up in any case because you're going to struggle in a lot of decisions if for you, it's not clear. So accounting background is actually a real skill and once for you, like you are fluent in accounting, everything in finance is easier.

Rob Brown:

Yeah, that makes sense. You're an auditor by your background, aren't you? So you've been in that world and, and you've moved into the, the FP& A world. For people not familiar with that term, tell us a little bit about what it stands for and what it involves, Nicholas.

Nicolas Boucher:

Yep. FP& A is for financial planning and analysis. Because you could do planning and analysis and other topics like supply chain or, um, industrial, uh, and actually if we do a contrast accounting, you look more at the past to understand what, uh, happened and to validate that it's happened. And FP& A, you are more forward looking because, you know, you cannot change what happened. So you want to plan using the past and some assumptions. And also, you want to propose actions to help, uh, come back to the objectives and to help the management make and take the decisions that will help, um, the company perform better. So it's a combination of analysis where you provide insights and planning where you help build a budget and calculate the forecast.

Rob Brown:

I'm glad you talked about the future. One of the debates raging in public accounting right now with accounting firms helping their business clients is the move from compliance to advisory. We know that the compliance function, there's downward pressure on fees, it's less valued by the stakeholders and by the clients. So, accountants have been sometimes pushed, sometimes encouraged to become more advisors. And this involves less historical analysis and more future analysis. Are you seeing that across the whole finance function?

Nicolas Boucher:

I think yes, in companies like the bean counter and like, um, I will say the, the people like, uh, preventing to turn around and to do your work, like people don't want that anymore. You really need to use the skills of I will say the old finance where you have still the safeguards and you know the rules. But you need to explain them and you need after to say, okay, within this rule, how can you make decisions to navigate and, uh, move the company towards their, your goal. And only being there to remember everybody rules and just to do figures is not what is expecting anymore from finance. People want real business partners. They want real insight because we have the chance in finance. That we are at the crossroads on all of the departments and all of their informations. So we see things that others don't see, and we see problems. We see also sometimes solutions to problems. And we should take this as a duty to communicate and to help the others, um, come together to a point and us to bring the insights when we, when it's about figures.

Rob Brown:

I love your image of the finance accounting function being at the crossroads, the hub of the wheel, perhaps. Because the pandemic was a real wake up call for how do we plan for the future? And maybe you've heard the term VUCA, V U C A, Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity. Nobody can predict with any certainty what will happen in the next two or three years, even, even one year plans, 90 day plans became very difficult to make concrete. So, how has the finance and accounting function in your eyes developed to cope with a more uncertain future economically, internationally, with all the parameters?

Nicolas Boucher:

So, I think because we have seen how fast things can turn around, we need, and we have experienced that now, so we are better, but we need to be able to plan faster, to understand better our plannings. And also during the times where actually is calm and consistent, we should not sleep and we should run stress tests. Some industry do that already. Banking, they do that on liquidity and solvency. They run stress tests to know what happens if the worst case is coming. And I think the last year was a good wake up call that the worst case can happen. And we should be there to help management together with risk management. To see, okay, what will happen to the company if the worst case happened, but also then what are the options? Like, how can we raise capital? How can we stop costs? How can we maybe use some legislations and some legal tools that are available for a company? to slow down and to get also help from outside.

Rob Brown:

Now you have hundreds of thousands of followers on LinkedIn, you run an artificial intelligence and AI finance club. So you're very much on the bleeding edge of innovation in finance and accounting. What is coming up for us and how are things changing?

Nicolas Boucher:

So, um, in case some of the audience, they are, they have not yet done the move to use ChagPT for work.

Rob Brown:

that's a good idea. Let's call those out because accountants, some are still using Excel spreadsheets, Nicholas. Some are not automating bank feeds yet. So some are a little behind the curve. So yes, talk to them as well.

Nicolas Boucher:

So I think first like all of the tools that are available and the main one is ChagPT. You can use it and you should use it for work because it makes you more productive. You can write better. And even though we are figures People, we are spending a lot of time writing, uh, researching, maybe also translating ideas that we have in our mind, but in words, and as we are, uh, numbers people, it's good to use a tool like ChatGPT to, uh, make our, um, ideas better on paper. So that's one, um, you can also get much better at Excel if you get ChatGPT to help you with it. So just explain ChatGPT, what is your problem? And it will help you with formulas. And then the third aspect, now it's actually thanks to ChudGPT, you can become a Python expert. And myself, I was like, always thinking, Oh, I will learn Python when I have time. And thanks to TechGPT, I got the chance to be able to use Python. And Python is the tool that is going to open us the door to automation and mass data analysis. So a lot of people might be scared, might be, might not even know what is Python. It's basically a language that is code, but that is really easy to understand in English. And you don't even need to code it anymore now because you can let ChatGPT to code for you. And with Python, actually, you can use AI to do forecasting. You can consolidate 80 files in one, just within one line of code. And that is really hard to do with any other tool. So that's my, like, start to look at it. Uh, obviously I'm, I cannot explain in half an hour here and just how to use it, but, uh, it's not something that it's for others. No, it's going to be for you as well, that you will have to use Python, but not anymore. Program it yourself, just. Let ChargePT program it for you and you will get a lot of benefit from it.

Rob Brown:

Yeah, I can hear many accountants watching and listening to this, Nicholas saying, Wow, I already have to keep on top of all the tax and regulatory changes. You want me to be a trusted advisor, so I need to learn communication skills and leadership skills. I now need business planning skills. I now need to move away from compliance. You're asking me to do all of these things and now I have to be a coder and learn Python and learn chat GPT. They're already overwhelmed and overloaded. So what will happen to the accountants that do not or cannot embrace AI and the finance people?

Nicolas Boucher:

Let me tell you a story that what happened to me two months ago with my accountant who is doing my tax and my accounting. He had like 80 files that I gave him of all of my e commerce sales. And He's calling me saying, well, it's going to take me a lot of time to put that in our accounting system. And I just ask him like, give me, just give me one template of how you think it should look like. And then I will take care of it. And one hour after, I call him back and said, okay, those 80 files that you wanted, those 80 files that you wanted where we filter some lines, where we add some columns, where we change some of the, when we add like the accounts, they are done. And he just uploaded. And it happened. And how I did that, I just went into ChatGPT, asked, first, how do I combine 85s in one, and it was done with one line of code. And then after, I just did a small conversation on, okay, how now can I filter? How can I add these columns? And all of this. Uh, with a mini mini program, and I save my accountants one week of work. I save myself a lot of money because one week of work times 100 per hour, you can imagine how much it was. And on top, you will have more time for me and, or for other clients to spend time on really value added activities. So yes, it sounds a bit overwhelming, but because we still do too much of non value added activities and because we don't invest enough because we are in the routine on how we can learn to, um, to automate and do faster tasks and then have more time for valuable tasks.

Rob Brown:

That's such a great story. And the problem for accountants is that they, with downward pressure on compliance fees, they're having to find more and more ways to add value to the clients. If your accountant learned those skills for him or herself, They can charge a premium fee for that or enhance their value in the company, can't they?

Nicolas Boucher:

You mean for the analysis value or the automation?

Rob Brown:

Yeah, but if an accountant knows how to do that instead of you having to do it as the client, if they have those skills, they can do a week's work in a day or an hour, but charge premium for that or enhance their own value.

Nicolas Boucher:

exactly. Because actually my accountant and me, we were lucky that I know how to do it. But if I take another company, I'm sure the company will spend one week of work. And actually, yeah, the accountant should say, Oh, we, you, you should win client this way saying, okay, you get your accounting done faster. And on top, uh, we are transparent on how we do that because we have automation that makes us more valuable, faster, and we spend more time on analyzing your. data and your finance rather than just, uh, computing and entering data in the accounting.

Rob Brown:

So you've given some examples, Nicholas, about how accounting and finance professionals can use ChatGPT, say with Excel, and you mentioned Python. What are some other quick wins or simple ways that they can utilize chat GPT and AI to enhance their value, to give more value to clients, to make a difference in their workload?

Nicolas Boucher:

So one other way, if you need to prepare procedures, You can use ChargePT to draft 80, 90 percent of the procedures for you.

Rob Brown:

These are like standard operating procedures or

Nicolas Boucher:

Exactly.

Rob Brown:

for certain tasks.

Nicolas Boucher:

Yeah. If you need to do compliance check, you can also, uh, first, especially if you are not sure yet on, um, on all of the rules, you can make it more clear for you. And even if you know the rules, but you don't know how to explain that to your client, ChargePT is a really good tool to ask and formulate. How can I explain to my client the tax law XYZ and what are the benefits for my client? And like this, by showing to the client and explaining how a rule or how tax law or how some accounting rules work. Your accountant will, uh, your client will now understand what you are doing. They will now also understand the value that you are providing. And in comparison with all of your peers, you will see, you'll be seen as, as somebody who can really translate accounting in a non financial way. And I think that's Even within companies or as a service provider, being able to talk to non finance people, it's a big skill. And there is one quote that for me, like the last 10 years, is uh, is the quote, I never found something better. Somebody wrote that the word is going to belong to people that are the best at communicating ideas. and not going to belong to the people that have the best ideas.

Rob Brown:

Ah, that's

Nicolas Boucher:

if you are, if you know how to communicate ideas, you are always ahead in front of people who don't know how to communicate ideas, even if they are smarter than you.

Rob Brown:

That's a, such a great quote. And I'm thinking of the key skills that will be required for finance and accounting professionals in the future. If automation is going to take care of a lot of the reporting and the number crunching and, and the data analysis, then the only role left really is the, the interpretation of that data and turning that into actions and strategies and plans. And as you rightly say, communicating that to the stakeholders, the clients, the other people in the business to make better business decisions. That's the future, isn't it?

Nicolas Boucher:

And you need to be smart also on configuring this automation because, you know, like, uh, garbage in, garbage out. So, um, you need to be the one who understands what are the business rules. Then either you have the skills to automate or you have the skills to explain that to a non financed person. So you get the automation and then you can spend time translating this to non financed people that have decision power. So you have a real impact. And that's, that's I think like two, three sets of skills. So first, uh, understanding business and accounting together. Second, translating that to technical people like IT people. So also talking a bit of IT and then third, analyzing all of the results and translate that to management.

Rob Brown:

That's very good. How do you think AI will impact traditional roles in finance like accounting, like controlling, like reporting? How is it going to affect those?

Nicolas Boucher:

I think we were really specialized for a while, uh, that each person in their department and, uh, within finance or accounting or together as a finance function, we were siloed. So I can't pay a bill. Receivable, Tax, General Ledger, FP& A, Treasury. And now, I feel that if you have a tool that next to you does the transactional work, you will either have the possibility to do more of other departments tasks, so you will be more generalist,

Rob Brown:

Yes.

Nicolas Boucher:

or, uh, you will I will say, yeah, you, you will, uh, have to use this data more in an analytic way. So not, you will not only process transaction. So either within your department, if you stay. It will be asked from you to bring more value and take more, I would say, like, um, helicopter view and more height, or you will do more transversal, transversal activities within finance because now you are crushing less numbers and it's not going to happen from one day to another, but we have seen that with account payables that were the first department that were, I would say, helped by automation. I really say help because I don't think like encoding invoices all day is a work that everybody wants to do for their whole life, but talking with suppliers, talking with clients, talking with internally and helping to to recover cash. That's a more valuable work. And there is a lot of activities we can do when we are not including the invoice in the tool.

Rob Brown:

We're speaking a lot about value here. Accounting and finance professionals are in a fight for relevance. A seat at the top table, boardroom acceptance, validation of their role. in the whole business function. They won't be able to do that without embracing AI and ChatGPT, will they, Nicholas, in the future?

Nicolas Boucher:

That's interesting because, uh, last week I was in Luxembourg, uh, at the headquarters of Ferrero ferrero Rocher the chocolate

Rob Brown:

Everybody loves Ferrero Rocher chocolates.

Nicolas Boucher:

And my last,

Rob Brown:

gave you a lot of chocolate to take away, Nicholas.

Nicolas Boucher:

yeah, I got some, so it was really nice. It was everywhere. You could pick some and, uh, even I was really shy and just took some. No, no, go ahead. Take more. And so my last. And I was doing a keynote for, uh, about AI and to inspire also, like, what is the, what is, what is going to change? And my last sentence was about the meaning of work

Rob Brown:

Okay.

Nicolas Boucher:

and how since two years, since all of us, more has been taken than just our work. Like our freedom was taken during the COVID and a lot of people reflect on what is the meaning of work. And now we hear, and it's not only in finance, but in finance, we hear about, okay, how can we have more impact? And like you say, how can we be more at the table of the board and next to the management? And because we are actually at the center of all of the departments, because we are next to strategic decisions. I got the chance in my career to have so many meetings where I was, wow, what I'm hearing now, like, it's the future of our company. We, we have this chance, so we just need to take it. And we need to take it by talking the business language and not be purely our content, but still using our skills because in those ballroom, when there was a question about figures, about scenarios, and their return on investment. All of the eyes were turning on me and my CFO or me myself when I was alone. And then I have to play the finance card because people were counting on me to give an elsewhere. And that's where you need still to use your skills, but to be invited. At this table, you need to show other skills and like

Rob Brown:

Yes. We'll put your details in our show notes about your AI Finance Club, Nicholas. Tell us quickly, why did you create it and what's the core mission of this club?

Nicolas Boucher:

So it came from a bit of a frustration that in all of the course I gave on AI, the day after there was something else coming, a new development, a new tool, a new way of using AI. And. As I love to continue to teach to people and to show to people, uh, how they can use AI to do their work better. I was thinking about how can I do that in another way? And some people came to me and asked, is there a way that we can. Like always get update from you. So I created this club because I wanted to have a continuous way. And I do that weekly now where me and some experts, because I'm not the only one that a lot of other experts are helping to show how you can use AI in finance processes and on top, and that's even more fun, we have once per month, a live masterclass. where we focus on one topic and the last one was how to use AI in accounting. So it's great where we invite somebody and then we, uh, we first learn about the topic and then we brainstorm at the end on how to, to use AI in accounting. And next time, I think we'll do something about which tool do you need to implement for AI. And that's also people learning from each other. That's also, uh, Fractional CFOs, um, CFOs, like, also, like, rubbing ideas about, okay. I have this problem. Is there somebody here who also had this problem? And we talk about it. And that's a great way to learn as a group.

Rob Brown:

That sounds terrific. Final question, Nicholas, what excites you most about the future of accounting and finance?

Nicolas Boucher:

Well, I am, I am a finance person first, and I think I will stay a finance person forever because I really think we have the chance to see both the past with the figures, but also to see the future with figures. And if we do our job well, we can translate that. really a guide or guideline for all of our business partners. And that's why my goal is to help people to do that better. And there are a lot of tools either. Um, you use the best analytics tool, uh, and methods either you use also financial storytelling, but at the end, if you know how to communicate better, the financial figure to non finance. You will have more success, and if you have more time for it, because you could automate, because you could use all of, you could use Excel, you could, um, also see through because you have more experience, uh, more experience insights about, okay, how do I analyze expenses, revenue? then you will provide more value. So in a nutshell, I will say, um, take more time to communicate value, take less time to do robotic stuff. And so you'll have more impact.

Rob Brown:

Nicholas, that's been terrific. You paint a very positive picture of finance and accounting in the future, but it will not happen without AI. Uh, we really appreciate your time today. Thank you.

Nicolas Boucher:

Thank you.