KPMG's U.S. Chair and CEO Paul Knopp says AI will make services more effective and efficient. Getty Images

Can AI help accountants balance the books?

David Brancaccio, Erika Soderstrom, and Alex Schroeder Jul 12, 2023
Heard on:
KPMG's U.S. Chair and CEO Paul Knopp says AI will make services more effective and efficient. Getty Images

The audit, tax and advisory firm KPMG, one of the so-called big four accounting firms, has just announced it’s making a multi-billion dollar investment in Microsoft’s artificial intelligence and cloud computing services. The idea is that by partnering with Microsoft, KPMG will get access to technologies that make its workers more efficient and bolster the professional services the company provides. Marketplace’ David Brancaccio spoke with Paul Knopp, KPMG U.S. Chair and CEO about the announcement. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

David Brancaccio: Now, if I may speak for 265,000 KPMG employees who will be seeing the news and are wondering if it means the AI will do their work and they would become redundant.

Paul Knopp: David, I think that generative AI is going to be something that actually helps our people deliver services in a more productive, meaningful, effective and efficient way. We have a survey that we are going to be releasing later this month where 80% of business leaders that are using generative AI believe that it is the most significant disruption they’ve seen in a long time. 75% believe is the top emerging technology over the next 18 months. And more than half believe that they will need more workforce in the future because of generative AI.

Brancaccio: What an economist thinks about looking at AI — I mean, if the technology doesn’t destroy the world — is that it’s supposed to be about boosting productivity. That’s at the core of our discussion here. Now, your survey of business leaders finds that a lot of executives think those productivity gains would translate into less stress and less burnout and more meaningful work for employees.

Knopp: Absolutely. That survey reveals that a significant number of those executives believe that there’ll be less stress and less burnout because of the advent and use of generative AI. I think part of that, David, is absolutely that you’re going to be able to take some more routine tasks, some more mundane tasks, and have generative AI help produce the result, allow our people to use that skill to be more creative with what they deliver and to help our clients understand why it’s going to be valuable for them in the future as they try to improve their operating models and their business models.

Brancaccio: You sound very all in on the technology. At some level, you’re not scared?

Knopp: It is absolutely true that we need to ensure that we understand the cyber risk from generative AI, we need to understand the data and reliability risk. We understand the biases that might come with some generative AI. But there was absolutely work that’s going on today — and we’re doing that kind of work with Microsoft — to help ensure that the information we produce, the services we produce and deliver, that they are trustworthy, that they are going to provide sound information for our clients on which they can base really great decisions to make their businesses better for the future.

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