There are some technologies that emerge and change the way we work and live forever. Take the iPhone for example. The major components of this invention already existed (cell phones, Wi-Fi, mobile access to email). But Apple combined these features into such a user friendly and compelling product that today we hardly remember how we functioned before the smartphone.

In November 2022, another transformative technology was released. OpenAI launched a generative AI (GenAI) bot called ChatGPT. All you need is a web browser, or app, and a login to operate this bot. No subscription is required. ChatGPT simply responds to natural language commands which does not necessitate any special training to get started and create results.

In less than 1 year, ChatGPT reached over 100 million weekly users. Three months after its release, UBS cited it as the fastest-growing consumer technology in history. GenAI became so infused in our culture that it influenced the word of the year selections for 2023. We may see new vocabulary emerge like how Google went from a proper name to a verb.

Given all this hype and being such a new technology, should accounting professionals pay attention to it now?  - The answer is yes!

Using ChatGPT, or other GenAI tools like Gemini (from Google) and Co-Pilot (from Microsoft), will save you time and help you keep up with clients and talent who are already using it. Remaining unaware and inexperienced in using GenAI will put you at a disadvantage.

Clients may ask GenAI to generate an agenda for their meeting with you as their advisor. The bot may produce talking points you didn’t plan for, but perhaps should have. GenAI produces answers, lists, charts, grids, summaries, and side-by-side comparatives of information. Unlike a search engine, GenAI creates an answer or solution in seconds, not a list of links. It is so amazing that you cannot miss the opportunity to at least familiarize yourself with how it works and the type of information it may produce for your people, your clients, and of course, for you, too.

Accounting professionals are using GenAI in multiple time savings ways as well. It can act as an assistant in:

  • looking up answers to technical questions,
  • drafting email responses to a client questions or organizing notes into an outline,
  • creating a list of prospects who would be potential ideal target clients.

CPA.com created the “Generative AI Toolkit” which provides additional use cases accessible to firms today.

When you use ChatGPT,  your responsibility is to review the GenAI output (response) in detail and modify it using your knowledge, as well as verify the accuracy of the information included.

Further adoption and additional use cases will be enabled as more developers add GenAI bots to their applications. Sage’s CEO Steve Hare and CTO, Aaron Harris, shared at the 2024 Sage Transform Conference the new “Sage Copilot” feature that will automate various tasks within the platform using GenAI. By starting to use ChatGPT to practice your prompts, you’ll get better at wording and responses and you will have a deeper understanding and comfort with these bots as more become readily available.

Some practitioners are concerned by the risks and liability of using GenAI tools, and it is good to understand their downsides and work to mitigate them. But the rewards of using these tools is significant and you don’t want to deny your team access or pretend that ChatGPT doesn’t exist. As with each new technology that emerges, smartphones, cloud computing, and the internet, we have to learn and create new safety procedures and usage guidelines. Learn where the risks are and put guidelines and procedures in place to mitigate them.

So where do you start?

  1. Try it. If your firm has Co-Pilot enabled, perhaps the easiest way is to open your Microsoft Edge browser and click on the Co-Pilot logo in the search bar. The tool will give you sample questions, or you can post your own.
    1.  A nice feature of Co-Pilot is it provides you the source for the data provided, and not all GenAI tools do this. You can ask for the sources on some, though and that should become a standard practice.
  2. Improve your prompts. Though you don’t need any training to start using GenAI, the quality of your prompt (the question you pose to the bot) affects the quality of the output (the response). One CPA in Washington developed the “Kitchen Table Automations” to help other people start capitalizing on the power of ChatGPT.
  3. Setup a ChatGPT 4 account. Identify at least one person in your firm to pay for the subscribed version of ChatGPT. There are different subscription models for ChatGPT 4. OpenAI breaks down the differences between the versions here. ChatGPT 4-Turbo is currently trained on the most recent internet data, up to December of 2023. This way you have exposure to the tool many others have and can leverage this robust generative AI functionality.
    1. Ask ChatGPT to draft an acceptable use policy for your firm. Know that it won’t be perfect, but it will give you a good starting place.
  4. Talk to your team about GenAI. Identify who is using it and how. Discuss the importance of review and that using these tools is not a replacement for their critical thinking, accuracy checking, and sourcing of the findings. Share use cases. Ask the team to add a footnote when GenAI is used to generate material, i.e. “ChatGPT was used in part for the production of this material.”
  5. Find out what resources your E&O insurance carrier has available. They will be following the latest in risk management related to the use of Chat bots and may be able to help with your policies.
  6. Keep confidential and private information out of GenAI until you verify how each particular solution protects the confidentiality of the material you share with the bot. ChatGPT is not confidential, so avoid sharing private or copyrighted information with “her” because your prompts and information you supply will be used to train the larger learning model. Other AI solutions are different, so assign someone to read and understand the policies of any AI tools you want to use.

Again, it is easy to start and experiment. If you wonder about something, ask the bot, you won’t break it. Curiosity is a leadership attribute, let it flourish. Then share with us what you find! We are all learning the power and application of this tool together.

Have fun,

Samantha