Machine learning will be a reality in three years

According to a new survey by ACCA (the Chartered Certified Accountants Association), 63% of respondents in Singapore believe that machine learning will become a reality in three years.

The findings were published in a report “Machine learning: more science than fiction,” highlighting how the accounting profession has massive potential for new tech developments. The report focuses on machine learning, which is computers ‘ ability to “learn” and make decisions or predictions based on analyzing large data sets.

Key findings in the survey:

  • For many organizations in Singapore, machine learning becomes more relevant, with 27% having initial discussions or exploring concepts. Compared to 24 percent worldwide.
  • Huge opportunities for better business intelligence and across a range of activities carried out by accountants
  • Adoption of machine learning needs to be based on legitimate business need rather than just wanting to be seen as using AI
  • Ethical challenges lie ahead – accountants need to align professional competence and due care with AI and machine learning

Results show that 27% have initial discussions or exploring machine learning concepts, compared to 24% globally. Six percent, one of the highest percentages compared to other markets, are in advanced testing, with “go live” in three to six months, and six percent are in full live data production mode.

The report also found that 35% of those surveyed in Singapore have no plans to adopt machine learning in their organization, while 13% are undecided. Locally, the main barriers to machine learning are 57% lack of skilled staff, with 48% citing costs as a barrier. Nearly a fifth admits they see no clear benefit from learning machines.

Machine learning is a critical area of accountant development. Looking ahead, understanding its value and benefits, as well as its ethical challenges, will be crucial. The starting point must be a legitimate business need with a clear understanding of what it can bring to the organization, said Narayanan Vaidyanathan, author of the report and head of business insights at ACCA.

AI and machine learning can add value to work accountants—from generating valuable insights for business decision-making, fraud detection, risk assessment, understanding tax complexities, and also more effective non-financial reporting. According to Narayanan, the accounting profession must understand how AI and machine learning works, especially given its role in influencing the trust we have in these systems’ decisions.

Reuter Chua, head of ACCA Singapore, said Singapore is proud of its tech capabilities and a thriving global tech hub. But when it comes to AI, accountants try to see realities through the hype. Like all technology, responsibility comes with power, and ethical considerations are never far from machine learning. Accountants need to consider and manage potential ethical compromise from algorithm-based decision-making, such as the risk of bias in the data set that feeds them, and accountability for decisions made.

The report emphasizes that all finance professionals should at least know how AI is evolving and be alert to how developing capabilities might overlap with their role impact. To prepare for the digital future, ACCA already examines a range of digital topics within its ACCA Qualification Masters. It has also enhanced digital content across many student exams, while ensuring digital is weaved into the continuous professional development of members.

Entry of machine learning into accountancy mainstream is a huge opportunity here in Singapore, but also globally. This is an area where professional accountants have the opportunity to develop a core understanding of emerging technologies, building their digital skills alongside their communication skills, so they can really explain the results. They can then truly benefit from technologies such as machine learning to support them with intelligent analysis of vast amounts of data, Reuter Chua added.