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Should Bookkeepers Lean into AI? (Sponsored by Wagepoint)

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by Shrad Rao

Let's set the scene. We're about 25 years into the technology revolution, and we think we're just starting to kind of get the hang of it. Then, AI enters the conversation in a big way.

It doesn't matter where you're taking your daily scroll through the online sphere, it’s all anyone’s talking about — especially generative AI. And it’s all industries, too. For all of us, including bookkeepers, the question isn’t if AI will disrupt the space, it’s when.

Be thoughtful and intentional with your AI decision-making.

When there's a shiny new toy on the market, it can be tempting to jump right in and get ahead of the curve. Should bookkeepers be jumping on this AI train before it really gets chugging along at full steam?

Not exactly. I'll share a story with you.

The year is 2014, when bitcoin was mainstream and the next big thing. In a move that landed us in the Globe and Mail, Wagepoint made it possible for employees to be paid in bitcoin.

The problem was the entire industry was so nascent, and because of that, the exchange we were using collapsed within a year of our partnership. We had to continuously rework everything, and as a result, today payment via cryptocurrency isn’t an option anymore.

AI is similarly in its early days. A lot of what’s hot on the market right now looks the same, at least from the end-user perspective. It takes a prompt and spits out ideas or content. We haven't really seen the full scope of how AI will develop and how it'll truly impact any industry.

Most of the applications you have come to know and love — including us, at Wagepoint — are exploring the use of AI within their products. In fact, companies like Xero, Intuit and Sage have been actively using AI within their products to automate data entry, reconciliation and other functions as well. But it'll take some time before most of us find the "perfect" use cases that actually enhance the customer experience vs. just creating more noise for the end customer.

So, rather than jumping in with both feet, start with dipping your toes in. Here’s what that could look like:

  1. Marketing — Whether it’s for blog posts or social media posts, AI copywriting can be very useful. There are tons of tools on the market that address copywriting — Copy.AI being one that I’ve used myself. There are a few caveats while using AI to write copy in general. Please fact-check and check for plagiarism because, as wonderful as these tools are, they're utilizing the known universe of information out there, and for some reason, it is not always great with just stating facts and not borrowing from some other source. ChatGPT’s free version is also useful in this regard, but you have to learn how to narrow your prompts to get copy that’s less generic. Market research on specific niches can be especially useful if you are trying to learn more about how to service small businesses in those industries.
  2. Administrative tasks — We’ve been using Grammarly.com for years here at Wagepoint and recently, they upgraded to having an AI assistant help you with your email copy. Customer service is another area where it can be useful to triage messages based on priorities, set meetings and automate payment reminders. Using Google AI assistant even in these small ways can add up the time savings quickly.
  3. Creating templates — This can be particularly useful if you are growing your business and want to create a set of standard operating procedures (SOPs) to accelerate the sharing of knowledge with your team. ChatGPT can often spit out generic templates that can be modified faster than if you had to write it from scratch. Although legal agreements would also fall into this category, I don’t believe it’s at a place where AI-assisted contract law has been tested and proven in court multiple times, which is why I don’t recommend it being used for law-related tasks at the moment.

Given how much we all pay for tech tools, I would highly recommend starting with the free versions of AI products before paying for the advanced features. It’s more important to gently fold the new approach into your current process rather than getting tempted by all the great feature marketing these companies do to get you to convert into a paying customer.

The security and legal implications of AI.

It's not surprising that questions about AI and its uses also come with questions of security, especially in regulated environments where you have compliance to consider and client data to protect.

Who owns the data we enter into AI tools? Who owns the data that it spits out? Is personally identifiable information captured into an algorithm that can then be used elsewhere?

Unfortunately, because of how new this all is to everyone, we don't have all the answers and it is still being debated at the global level.

The best practice right now is to proceed with caution, even consult with lawyers if you can, so that you really know what you're getting yourself into. Our advice is not to use any PIIA (proprietary information and invention assignment) within the prompts, especially for the free version of these AI applications and to review the terms and conditions for the paid or closed-system version of these applications as well.

Start thinking about AI now.

Over the course of building Wagepoint, one thing has become very clear to me: Bookkeepers who adopt technology early become the frontrunners in their field and tend to grow their practice exponentially faster than those who sit it out. We saw it with cloud bookkeeping over the last 10 years, and I believe we'll see it again with AI.

The bookkeeper's role has changed dramatically over the past decade — you're often the first source of recommendations for a small business owner who is looking to automate a workflow within their business. As the younger generation of entrepreneurs continue to pour in, they will likely expect that you're not only aware of ways in which AI can help them with their business, but that you can also demonstrate your proficiency in using it effectively.

I truly believe that it's the combination of using AI to free up your time from the mundane and spending more time helping your clients with things they're trying to solve in their businesses that will continue to make bookkeepers indispensable to small businesses well into the future.

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