Blog>Advice>AI and the Accountant: Q&A with Lauren Harvey

AI and the Accountant: Q&A with Lauren Harvey

25/04/2019

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ai-accountant

Lauren Harvey

Founding Director

Lauren Harvey, Director of Full Stop, is passionate about process and numbers.

After studying Artificial Intelligence at university, Lauren went on to run Finance and IT departments before establishing Full Stop in 2011. Here’s how she uses tech and innovation to empower her business and clients. In her words, “we play with the abacus, so you don’t have to”.

TELL US ABOUT YOU! WHAT DID YOU DO BEFORE RUNNING YOUR PRACTICE, FULL STOP?

I studied business and languages at A Level before AI and then accountancy. Back then, the link between business and accounting was never really explained. I was (and am) a techie, with an interest in business, and a fascination with funding. After graduating with a degree in Computational Linguistics, I joined the circle back up and realised accounting was the way forward in terms of my love of business. I believe it’s one of the best ways to really understand any business.

I set up Full Stop to get back to what I’ve always enjoyed: helping businesses of all kinds and sizes. I could finally see that tech like Receipt Bank and Xero could be applied to make data more accessible and help small businesses. When I first started, it was just me. I had never worked in practice, and to this day, struggle to know what ‘practice’ means. Instead, I’ve been an in-house finance manager, finance director – and now bring that experience to small businesses. Through the likes of Xero and Receipt Bank, I could provide services to a select set of clients. I managed up to thirty clients through using tech efficiently and managing those relationships. Since having two children, we now have a team that work with a wider client-base.

We work with clients who want to be more efficient, save time and get insights. Just closing the books efficiently has never been enough for us.

HOW HAS AI AND MACHINE LEARNING CHANGED SINCE YOU STUDIED IT?

Twenty years ago, AI and computer science was mainly theoretical. Everything came with the caveat of ‘This will all be possible if we get the data’. The introduction of smartphones completely changed the way we handle data. Now, everyone is entering data almost every second. This proliferation of data has been the tipping point.

Today, AI is now more fashionable than computing or information technology. It’s easy to use AI as a blanket term for everything, all the way from advanced robotics to a clever line of code. And we’re only at the tip of the iceberg on what machine learning can do. In terms of the future of AI, as it starts to do more and more clever stuff, there will need to be a piece around that on the ethics and transparency of innovation. Much of the clever innovation we’re seeing in start-ups is through integrations and linking, such as open banking.

Right now though, the nature of the market means we can capture data efficiently and present it in a different way. In fact, I couldn’t be running my business without Xero and Receipt Bank, and the data that’s enabled me to capture. It’s crucial to know the barrier between AI and the personal, and not assume that a computer can deal with it. You have to know its limitations, and keep relationships paramount.

They don’t want to hear about accounting jargon, AI and machine learning. They want to hear about results, simplicity, elegance and enjoyable relationships.

For instance, we tried out an AI-powered virtual assistant a couple of years ago, which really demonstrated the importance of investing in communication. Computers are really good at knowing what’s in your calendar, but they’re not so good at developing a friendship or making small talk over email. Sending an email might seem simple, but it’s a big part of getting people interested and enjoying your company.

HOW DO YOU TALK TO YOUR CLIENTS ABOUT AI?

It takes a lot of time to manage expectations on what AI is. In the early days, we talked a lot about Xero and Receipt Bank. For the last few years, we haven’t needed to educate people as much. In the early days, there was also a lot of pushback on security. People didn’t want to have their data in different places. Now, data – and AI – really is everywhere. Most people know that when they start working with an accountant, they’ll need to give access to their banking data and invoices. People seem to trust data capture a lot more now, and see it as commonplace.

Sometimes when I talk to clients about tech, I lose their interest; it’s a block. Recently, we have been rephrasing tech into process, and process into results. They don’t want to hear about accounting jargon, AI and machine learning. They want to hear about results, simplicity, elegance and enjoyable relationships.

Lauren will be cutting through the buzzwords and exploring the real-life benefits of AI for a modern-day accountant. Register your place for her upcoming webinar, ‘AI and the Accountant: Going Beyond the Myths’, today.

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