Home Business & Finance
Accountability and Professional Responsibility
Table of Contents:
As Bryony Clear Hill (2020), associate manager of Ethics Awareness at the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), stated in a recent article, accountants possess important skills relating to ethics. They are well-positioned to take a critical role in ensuring that Al is implemented ethically in organizations. They are also committed to the ethical principles of their professional organizations’ Code of Ethics.
Regarding accountability and professional responsibility, it is critical that responsibility for the decisions made or assisted by Al be clearly defined in the organization and among its service providers. This point is illustrated by the following quotation from Michael Hobbs, founder of reputable.ai, a London-based start-up, in the same article (Hill, 2020):
The key is ensuring that decisions made algorithmically are understood up the management chain within the organization, and there is a clear line of responsibility. The company must take ownership of any decisions made by algorithms, (para. 15)
What does it mean for accountants and the Finance function of the organization in general?
Bryony Clear Hill (2020) suggested the following approach in her article:
CFOs and senior finance managers are ultimately responsible for all finance-related decisions, including those made by Al. As such, it is key that they have a level of understanding which allows them to make informed decisions as to what Al should be used for, what data is feeding the algorithms, and how the Al is making decisions, (para. 17)
Fairness and Non-Discrimination
Accountants and auditors are involved in assessing organizational risks and compliance with laws and regulations. It is crucial to ensure that the Al systems in place do not result in unfair and unjustifiably biased outcomes or any discrimination that expose the organization to legal, reputational, and other risks. Such risks may also exist in situations where Al systems manipulate users by unfairly discriminating content based on their profile or serving hidden purposes.
Human Control of Technology
In the world of hyper-automation, users must have adequate human oversight and monitoring of Al systems. Administration includes ongoing testing of Al systems and reviewing automated outcomes to ensure that the systems work as intended and that their results are accurate and free of unjustifiable bias. Although Al may result in job losses in mundane tasks such as data entry, AP invoice processing, and reconciliations, Al will create new roles and job opportunities in analyzing AI-processed data and the design and maintenance of Al systems.
Indeed, accountants have a significant role to play. They must train and maintain the training sets of Al systems, assist with the design of Al systems that support financial reporting, tax reporting, audit, and other business processes as well as monitoring and auditing these systems and their related controls.
Privacy and Security
As discussed earlier in this chapter, privacy and security risks represent a significant area of challenges and concerns for users and providers of
Al. Standards are needed to ensure that Al systems are robust, safe, reliable and well-maintained. Also, Al systems should be frequently reviewed by both users and service providers to ensure data privacy and security risk monitoring. Al-related privacy and security, as well as issues related to human control of Al, should represent critical areas of development for accounting professionals moving forward.
Transparency and Explainability
In addition to the above considerations, data processed through Al systems should be traceable, and the outcomes should be both explainable and auditable. As Bryony Clear Hill suggested (2020), accountants should be proactive in asking questions of those designing and building Al, always ensuring that a clear understanding of inputs, decision processes, and outputs is recorded. She also added that, when running tests or trials, they should ask developers to explain the process of decision-making the algorithms are following, and that any unexplainable area should be addressed before the process goes any further.
Promotion of Human Values
Finally, the guidance on Al Principles emphasizes the need for Al systems to be human-centered, committed to the benefits of humans and society. In the context of accounting professionals, these types of ethical considerations translate into ensuring that Al systems and the outcomes derived from these systems comply with all laws and regulations, are reliable and trustworthy, and support the organization’s social goals and values, including employee engagement and sustainability considerations. For example, one type of role that accountants might be involved in here would be to review an organization’s internal controls over Al systems. The review would assess whether its Al systems are operating as intended and as communicated in the organization's sustainability disclosures or Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) reporting to investors.
In conclusion, the literature related to Al principles currently provides high-level guidelines that accounting professionals can refer to as sources of guidance and inspiration for the evolution of their codes of ethics, standards, and practices. At this stage, these Al principles represent only recommendations with no enforcement mechanisms. However, they are likely to shape the future of Al regulations and standards moving forward.