Are accounting jobs safe in a world of ChatGPT and AI?

Despite initial fears, ChatGPT and AI cannot replace accountants. Instead they have the power to enhance the industry.

3 people are sitting on chairs, chatting and smiling.

Picture it: San Francisco. March 2023. OpenAI releases GPT-4. To close out the demo, GPT-4 prepares a tax return.

Very cool, or very concerning?

The headlines the next day were enough to make any accountant stressed. After all, if artificial intelligence can prepare a tax return, it can do everything an accountant can do, right?


Sensational headlines can cause a lot of stir, but there’s not necessarily much to back up the initial claims. 

“The biggest thing accountants are facing right now is the narrative and the fact that our clients see all the same headlines that we see every day. Some of those are helpful, some of those aren't, especially in an age when people just learn from headlines,” Jason Staats from Realize says. 

So, how does an accountant or accounting firm owner navigate these new, uncharted, AI-powered waters?

Keep it in perspective

To start, it’s important to remember what ChatGPT can and can’t do.

Yes, it can read data off a page and extract that data, but it can’t think critically and it can’t apply the extensive knowledge and expertise of human minds trained in the field. Instead of being worried about AI’s capabilities, see it as good news. Learn how you can leverage what it does offer: communication support and data sorting.

But there’s still some uncertainty around what ChatGPT can do in business. There’s no explicit list out in the world of what it can and cannot do consistently. Even if that list did exist, there’s no guarantee that an update to the system wouldn’t completely upend and redefine its capabilities. So, there may never be a definitive list, which means staying on top of the latest advancements is critical. 

Keep in mind that while ChatGPT can sound very confident with its outputs, it’s important to fact check all information. Outputs shouldn’t be blindly trusted. 

ChatGPT is very confident and can feel convincing. But it doesn’t necessarily deserve the authority it’s getting at this point. It has its limitations. It can only produce what it’s learned.

Imagine someone who's homeschooled, learns inaccurate information, and is never corrected. They know a lot, but they also don't know what's wrong. Essentially, as the saying goes: you don’t know what you don’t know. The same goes for ChatGPT. 

If accounting firms choose to leverage the technology in their day-to-day tasks, all work using generative AI should be checked for accuracy. It’s software, but it only knows so much. It’s not infallible. From that perspective alone, accounting jobs are safe. 

Free up time to focus on tasks that really count 

You know that accounting isn’t limited to data input and data output. 

Accounting is a complex industry that requires problem solving and critical thinking. AI can help with some tasks, such as pulling data from bank statements and organizing information from multiple inputs. But to date, it can’t do an entire job, or the whole range of tasks an accountant performs. 

Many tasks currently performed by human accountants will become outdated down the road. This isn’t new: technology emerges and in response, new ways of doing things are developed. But accountants perform a full breadth of tasks, not just one single task. 

Jobs that are more focused on single tasks are more at risk than a multifaceted accounting job. This means that even if your firm’s focus is on tax, you’ll still have plenty to do outside of what AI can support.

If you’re providing your clients with business insights, value, advice and security that helps them better understand—and be in control of—their financial future, AI will not replace you.

Instead, think of AI tools like ChatGPT and accounting AI tools as time savers. They’re helpful tools that will do some of your work for you, allowing you to take on the more complex and valuable aspects of accounting.

Karbon AI is a perfect example of an AI tool designed to supplement your work as an accountant. It saves you time by summarizing long email threads (including internal conversations in comments), composing email drafts, prioritizing your inbox, and more.

Speak up and get ahead of the curve 

There’s a lot of talk out there that claims AI will replace accountants, and the talent shortage in the accounting industry does nothing but fuel that train of thought.

But there are things you can do to keep the faith and educate those who are misinformed. What’s the best way to get ahead of a PR disaster? Communicate.

As Jason Staats noted, your clients are reading the same headlines you are. They likely have many questions about your thoughts on AI and ChatGPT.

So, if you send newsletters to clients, why not include your commentary on AI? Explain what it can and can’t do, and how accountants still have an important role in business. Don’t be afraid to speak to the issue. The more you can become an authority on artificial intelligence in accounting, the more you’ll hold the trust of your clients—and their ongoing business.

Need proof? Look to the cloud

Still feeling worried and apprehensive? Think back to when cloud accounting first came on the scene. 

The industry was rife with fear of job loss, but it proved to be unwarranted. By including clients in the process of moving to the cloud, accountants were able to demonstrate their usefulness and relevance in the face of new technology.

And firms that embraced the cloud and became early adopters of the technology gained a leg up among competitors. 

Approach AI the same way. 

Keep calm and carry on 

In short: don’t panic. Think of this as an opportunity.

Play around with ChatGPT and see what it can do to make your job easier. Identify how it can become a tool for your team and start using it to improve your performance and your firm’s performance. 

Then, proceed with caution, but add it into your workflows. Check the work. And stay open with your clients about how AI is helping you better help them. In doing so, you’ll show your clients not only how irreplaceable you are, but how new technology can increase your value.