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Accountants must play key role in application of AI

As artificial intelligence (AI) becomes more mainstream accountants need to lead the way in adopting it as part of environmental, social and governance (ESG) reporting, says the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA).

 

A new report by ACCA and Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ) states that the accountancy profession, with its explicit and long-standing commitment to ethical practices, is well placed to guide organisations and lead the way in the adoption of ethical AI.

This is because the accountancy profession is bound by five principles which are set out by the International Ethics Standards Board for Accountants (IESBA) in its Code of Ethics.

These principles are integrity, objectivity, professional competence and due care, confidentiality, and professional behaviour.

The report, Ethics for sustainable AI adoption: Connecting AI and ESG, states that it is vital that the adoption of AI and its ethics needs to be connected and implemented as part of a company’s environmental, social, and governance (ESG).

The report reveals that fewer than half, 43%, of UK respondents in a survey of accountancy and finance professionals believed that the impact of AI on their rights as an individual, such as safety and personal security, levels of fairness, choice and transparency is positive.

It also revealed that 51% believed that the impact of AI on the overall standard of living in society is positive, but only half that proportion, 25% considered its impact on levels of inequality to be positive.

The survey highlighted the fact that ethics is important to the financial profession with 65% of those surveyed believing that their leaders prioritise ethics as highly as profits.

In the report, ACCA laid out the priorities that accountants need to focus on when implementing AI. The first is to make sure that all AI implemented aligns with the organisation’s values.

This includes areas such as diversity and inclusion in considering the impact on under-represented groups, the fairness when it comes to recruitment, the surveillance of employees, and the transparency of the businesses such as appropriately disclosing AI use to customers.

Helen Brand, chief executive of ACCA says: ‘AI adoption must consider the needs of all, especially the under-represented and vulnerable in society. That’s why one of our recommendations is to ensure the profession exercises its professional judgement, because AI may create previously unseen situations.

‘We recommend that professional accountants need to avoid over-reliance on simplistic checklist-based approaches which don’t give the full picture or leave space for unintended consequences.’

The report also states that accountants need to evaluate the business case for AI. This includes looking at the long-term value, considering the reputational risk from mishandling adoption, the public interest elements, and the immediate costs.

Ainslie van Onselen, chief executive of CA ANZ adds: ‘Our report found that in order to ethically and sustainably adopt AI, organisations need effective governance mechanisms.

‘AI is a strategic endeavour that should be spearheaded by leaders who know and execute on the difference between what we have a right to do and what is the right thing to do. It’s important to build knowledge and skills at the intersection of AI, ethics and sustainable development. This aligns well to the accountancy profession which can play a key role in driving responsible adoption.’

Looking ahead ACCA state that there is an opportunity to leverage AI to a greater extent considering the 19% of accountants already use it for accountancy and finance-related tasks such as preparing financial statements and management reporting.

One area in particular ACCA recommends accountants to focus on is company greenwashing. It calls for accountants to challenge greenwashing and seek insights using AI tools to help examine an organisation’s claims about its sustainability and net zero commitments.

 

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