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AI Copilot takes flight to save auditors time

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 26 Oct 2023

Fuelled with cutting-edge generative AI, new software aims to add dramatic efficiencies to lease accounting – enabling professionals to focus on higher-value decision making.

A digital ‘Copilot’ that aims to smooth out turbulence in auditors’ workloads has entered service. Designed to act as an extra audit team member rather than a simple analytics tool, the software is the brainchild of data solutions provider Engine B, which develops artificial intelligence (AI)-based technologies for professional services firms.

In July this year, the company consulted with 20 accounting and audit firms to better understand which of their issues and challenges could be addressed with the aid of a Copilot infrastructure.

That exercise sparked the development of plans for more than 20 different Copilot – all of which will help accountants and audit professionals to significantly reduce the time they spend on tasks ripe for automation.

In a statement, Engine B notes that as Copilot are made for different use cases, they are able to interact with each other to add value across specific engagements, groups of clients and entire firms. As a result, professionals will be able to focus on making higher-value decisions based on intelligent data insights, expertise and professional training.

Built with the latest tools from Microsoft and the Azure OpenAI Service, the first Copilot in the series aims to save time in the audit process and, more broadly, reduce risk in the audit sector. As the Copilot carries out its work, the auditor will stand ready to approve its decisions and rationale before moving on to tasks requiring human skill and experience.

Empowering professionals

The auditing area that the Copilot will focus on is lease accounting. While other technology tools have been deployed in that field before, the generative AI advancements in the Copilot’s DNA enable it to respond to complex questions.

In terms of its working process, the Copilot reads client leases before making judgements based upon appropriate standards and methodologies – then uses the client’s financial data, served from an integration engine, to ensure the lease has been accounted for correctly.

After that, the Copilot feeds its responses to the auditor’s working paper, complete with explainable evidence for how it made its decisions – saving a huge amount of time and enabling the auditor to get on with auditing, rather than manually comparing data.

Microsoft Corporate Vice President and Distinguished Architect, Cloud and AI, Uli Homann says: “We believe that chat interfaces and large language models can empower professionals to ask for what they want in natural language and get the best possible assistance. At Microsoft, we call this having a Copilot for any task, in any industry.”

Homann adds: “Engine B is a pioneer in applying this technology to the accounting industry, with their secure and standardised data platform. We are proud to partner with them and support professional services firms globally to explore the potential of Copilots for audit and tax engagements.”

Driving efficiencies

Responding to the innovation from the heart of the industry it seeks to benefit, Baker Tilly International Audit Software and Technical Manager Andrew Paul says: “We believe an audit is not just a legal necessity but an opportunity to provide additional value to stakeholders. As a network, we are exploring generative AI and Copilot technologies as we believe that these tools can support our intelligent and robust approach to auditing.”

In particular, Paul notes, his firm is interested in the ability of such technologies to analyse huge amounts of data that would have taken previous products hours or days to examine. “We look forward to vendors such as Engine B bringing these solutions to the market and exploring how they can be applied across a wide range of use cases,” he says.

ICAEW Chief Executive Michael Izza points out that accounting firms are rapidly exploring generative AI solutions to drive efficiencies and improve quality for clients. “We believe these new technologies should sit alongside and support the user, which is why we welcome the development of Copilots. Providing they are secure and built using the best technologies available, Copilots can simplify complex tasks, accelerate processes and provide valuable guidance and support to users.”

He adds: “When integrated with widely available products, such as those from Engine B and Microsoft, Copilots are available to all firms regardless of size, allowing them to deliver cost-efficient and quality-led services to clients.”

Development is already underway on further Engine B Copilots for areas such as related parties and due diligence, going concern and resilience and disclosure analysis – plus others that will support environmental, social and governance (ESG) assurance and tax advice.

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