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Most Accounting Firms Are Shying Away From Using AI—For Now, Survey Finds

While 35% of firms surveyed by Rightworks have no plans to use AI, 38% not using AI technology now might consider it down the road.

Although accounting firms have made progress in adopting new technology over the last few years, and many are planning to increase the attention and budget they devote to technology going forward, the use of artificial intelligence isn’t in the cards for many practices—at least not yet, according to a new survey from Rightworks.

The online survey of 493 decision makers and influencers at accounting, tax, and bookkeeping firms nationwide, which was conducted last September, found that 73% of respondents aren’t currently using AI in any way, with 35% saying they have no plans to incorporate AI into their practices at all.

Keep in mind that a majority of survey respondents (75%) come from either a small firm (one to five people) or a midsized firm (six to 20 people), which often struggle more with limited technical expertise and resources than larger firms do.

“Within this [35%] group, the most popular reason provided in the open-ended responses for avoiding AI altogether was an admitted lack of understanding about it and how it would benefit their business,” Rightworks says in the report, 2024 Accounting Firm Technology Survey. “Additionally, respondents cited concerns about cost, trust, and AI replacing jobs. Some stated that they are taking a ‘wait and see’ attitude to AI adoption.”

The other 38% of firms not currently using AI said they are “actively looking at ways to use it” down the road.

Rightworks found that 65% of respondents reported being only slightly comfortable or not comfortable at all with their firm using AI technology. That comfort level may be driven by a lack of understanding, as 69% of total respondents reported being only slightly knowledgeable about AI or not knowledgeable about it at all.

When asked in the survey what their biggest concerns are about adding AI technology in their firms, inaccuracy and data privacy were by far and away the most worrisome to decision makers.

Source: Rightworks

On the flip side, 23% of respondents indicated they are either actively using AI in one area (7%) or are testing it out in one or more areas (16%) of their firms, according to the survey. Four percent said they are using AI in multiple areas of their firms.

“The 35% of respondents who were moderately or very comfortable with starting to use AI were more likely to have also reported being knowledgeable about the subject. As one might expect, those knowledgeable anticipate savings on staffing costs and better service levels versus those who did not consider themselves knowledgeable,” the survey report says. “The correlation between respondents who were knowledgeable about AI and those who were comfortable beginning to use it was strong, suggesting a firm’s ability to fully understand any new technology is critical in their willingness to adopt it.”

Other key findings from the Rightworks technology survey include:

  • In what Rightworks calls “The Modern Firm Maturity Continuum” (leader, collaborator, contender, initiator, and follower), firms that defined their current state of technology maturity as “collaborators” and “leaders” garner up to 39% more revenue per employee.
  • Nearly 60% of firms consider themselves “followers” and “initiators,” on the lower end of The Modern Firm Maturity Continuum.
  • 88% of respondents indicated that technology positively impacts workplace efficiency and client services.
  • Only 22% of firms reported a high percentage (75% or more) of clients using the cloud, limiting client collaboration.
  • Flexible/remote workers and cybersecurity were the two biggest benefits to cloud adoption by 46% and 23%, respectively, of firms that have at least some data/apps in the cloud.
  • Lack of technology expertise and resources (44%) and/or budget (43%) were the top challenges for nearly half the firms moving to the cloud.

“Accounting firms have a clear opportunity to substantially increase revenue and productivity by investing in cloud-based infrastructures and connected technology. In addition to proven incremental revenue, firms stand to benefit from increased efficiency, stronger security, and enhanced client satisfaction,” Rightworks says in the survey report. “It is imperative that firms aspiring to be modern firms not only seek education and embrace technology but also intentionally facilitate discussion internally, as well as with their clients. This is the only way to truly lead the profession in the right direction.”