When people and technology join forces

Accountants, auditors and other providers of professional services have to balance complex issues, client expectations and cost pressure. It’s a juggling act that affects the whole industry significantly – and demands a paradigm change. BDO is using bot technology, with digital assistants NINA and LISA contributing not only to diversity but also more efficient processes.
 

With potential for application in a wide range of scenarios, robotics is increasingly finding its way into the service sector. A chatbot (a blend of “chat” and “robot”) is a text-based dialogue system. It allows users to send a brief message to the system and receive an automated answer from the bot - usually an avatar - within seconds.  The artificial intelligence behind the bot needs to be advanced enough to understand and respond to messages. If a situation proves too complex for the chatbot, it recognises this fact and initiates contact between the user and a human expert.

These days, it’s not enough for advice to be targeted and individual; it also needs to be readily available at all times. HelloNina addresses this need as a digital platform that supports startups in their daily business. Business founders can put their questions to NINA, a chatbot, around the clock. Whether a user wants to know about legal forms, accounting or social security, NINA has the answers and provides comprehensive information on the spot. If she doesn’t have a suitable response, or if the user requires more detailed advice, the system forwards the enquiry to a human expert. Using this approach, chatbot technology enables common questions to be answered efficiently, with the backup of specialists whenever targeted expertise is needed. All of this makes NINA the perfect complement to existing advisory services.

BDO’s new Digital Audit Assistant is called LISA. She is initially being used for selected clients in the context of the limited statutory examination. LISA supports them through the early stages of the audit and clarifies basic questions about the company’s business performance or financial development, for example. She is always available on the BDO Client Portal no matter when or where she’s needed. LISA is also able to collect relevant information and documents independently, and save them in the appropriate folders automatically. Relieving auditors of these routine tasks releases valuable human capacity. The auditor can focus instead on the complex aspects of an audit and has time for direct exchange with the client.

 

Chatbots like NINA and LISA are tackling various challenges:

Complexity. Humans and the human ability to think laterally and make critical judgements cannot at present be replaced by artificial intelligence (IA). Bot solutions can still be used to asses complex issues, however, as robotics enables large data volumes and complicated tasks to be structured logically and broken down into simple steps for their users. In this capacity chatbots are a useful addition to human abilities.

Client expectations. Clients demand high-quality services and want to be kept informed of how their engagement is progressing. Bot technology facilitates the constant flow of information between clients and service providers. For instance, NINA and LISA are happy to accept documents, comments and questions 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They then deal with them themselves or pass them on to the experts responsible.

Cost pressure prevails. Professional services involve a high degree of human involvement. At the same time, education and further training requirements continue to grow. So why not let robots take care of simple, repetitive tasks? By automating various processes with NINA and LISA, clients benefit from attractive pricing for quality services.

 

AI is superior not in terms of its supposed intelligence but in terms of the breathtaking speed and availability of such systems. AI needs to advance a little further before a true bot breakthrough can happen, however, as digital assistants are currently only able to deal with topics they’ve been trained, well programmed, in. And – like people – they need to keep learning.

Human expertise and cutting-edge technology will always work in symbiosis to drive innovation. Bot solutions, like NINA and LISA at BDO, will never replace the profession of fiduciary, auditor or adviser. But they will support clients and experts in their work and smooth the path for future collaboration.