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Intuit CEO: Old-school accountants will be ‘struggling in 5 years’ because of A.I.

·Chief Tech Correspondent
Intuit CEO Brad Smith at the fourth-annual QuickBooks Connect conference in San Jose, Calif. Source: Adm Golub/AP Images for Intuit QuickBooks
Intuit CEO Brad Smith at the fourth-annual QuickBooks Connect conference in San Jose, Calif. Source: Adm Golub/AP Images for Intuit QuickBooks

Intuit CEO Brad Smith is bullish on the benefits artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation can bring to society, but he also has words of warning to those accountants who don’t adapt to the times.

“Anyone who wants to stay in the business of, ‘Send me your shoebox, and I’ll type it in, and I’ll charge you by the hour,’ I think those will be the ones who will be struggling in 5 years,” Smith told Yahoo Finance this week at the company’s fourth-annual QuickBooks Connect conference, held in San Jose, California.

But despite those choice words, it’s not all doom-and-gloom for people who work in personal finance. In fact, Smith is positive that many more people will benefit from technological advancements than suffer.

A new chatbot powered by AI

At QuickBooks Connect on Friday, Intuit (INTU) announced QuickBooks Assistant, a new chatbot powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning that self-employed individuals and small businesses can interact with via voice or typed-out commands to more easily manage their finances. For now, users can ask up to 50 questions including how much money they’ve made, how much they’ll owe in taxes and which kinds of sales are most profitable.

While QuickBooks Assistant is limited in its scope right now, and then also limited to a certain demographic, Smith envisions a day in the near-future when QuickBooks Assistant is available to work with just about any taxpayer. Eventually, he would like to reach a point where the technology — and Intuit’s products, naturally — are advanced enough so that people don’t have to deal with many hassles around managing their finances.

“We imagine a day where your accounting is done, your taxes are done, and your payroll is done, and you don’t touch a keyboard,” Smith adds. “So you simply say, ‘Who owes me money?’ ‘Send a reminder.’ ‘What bills have come in? Pay them.’ ‘What money has come in? Put that in this account.’ You’re simply having a conversation either with the dashboard in your truck, if you’re out mowing lawns or painting houses with the connected vehicles that are happening.”

While that kind of idyllic future sounds lovely to think about, the reality is that getting there will mean a lot of change, frustration and heartache because of jobs lost. Forrester Research estimates that 7% of all U.S. jobs will be replaced with A.I by 2025. Smith acknowledges that will most certainly happen and that traditionalists — like those old school shoebox-rummaging accountants — who don’t keep up, could get left behind.

A changing role for accountants

But there’s also the real possibility for job creation: new roles even the best technologists and futurists might not fully anticipate. To that end, Forrester Research also predicts the equivalent of 9% of jobs will be created by 2025, as well.

“You know, if a small business works with an accountant, their odds of success go up 89%,” Smith contends, thanks to a savvy accountant’s judgment, intuition and ability to recognize trends and patterns. “So if get the accountants to step away from keying data in — is the way they define it themselves — and instead let the machine do that, and get the accountant into the advisory role, of hey, based on what I see, here’s what I think you ought to do. Then, I think you have a category that’s reimagined itself and hasn’t been displaced.”

JP Mangalindan is the Chief Tech Correspondent for Yahoo Finance covering the intersection of tech and business. Email story tips and musings to jpm@oath.com. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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