Lars Nielsen is a seasoned pro in the realm of technology and AI, fueled by curiosity and a dedication to innovation. As the Head of Business Development for Kontolink in the UK, he spearheads the promotion of Bank First Accounting. Lars, not a tech expert but an ardent learner, previously played a pivotal role at Roger.ai (now CorpayOne), an Open Banking accounting pioneer. We can't wait to see him on the stage at FAB2024
AI is currently the biggest topic in accounting. What are your thoughts on this statement? Do you agree or disagree, or think it’s just a bit too simplistic?
I agree that AI is a significant topic, not just in accounting but across various industries. Even in Denmark, where I'm based, the news often discusses how people should embrace AI in their everyday lives. Personally, I find it a bit inadequate when people simply mention AI in accounting without delving into specific use cases. AI is a broad term, and when discussing its application in accounting, I’d say that in general we’re mostly talking about how people use advanced language models rather than true AI.
I see a lot of potential in AI for accounting. There's a lot of potential in it, but it's still such a new technology. There is a need to identify practical applications and use cases beyond the general headlines talking about how it's going to transform your business. But I'm still missing those use cases. Like saying, like, okay, we used AI to do this and that, and we saved this much time. I need to see those use cases, and I haven't seen too many of those, to be very honest with you.
Moving on to the next question, despite the widespread anticipation of AI's future impact, what immediate changes do you foresee in bookkeeping or accounting that can be practically implemented now, rather than in the distant future?
I would start by saying it's hard for me to give a 100% correct answer to that question, because I'm not an accountant and a bookkeeper myself. But for me, whenever people reach out to me for a quick demo on how AI works and what it can do for them, I always showcase how it can summarise vast amounts of data as a practical use case.
If you have a lot of data in a spreadsheet, it's not like AI is something impossible for you to do yourself. It can just do it so much faster and it can be so much easier. I saw this demo the other day with someone who had a lot of data based on purchases and webshop data. This was across basically all the Scandinavian countries, like Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland. Just one massive spreadsheet. And they just put that into AI and said “Hey, we need to divide this into four different spreadsheets, one for each country, and put it into this folder. Make it happen”.
Took 10 seconds. I think there were like 40,000 lines in that one, and if you had to start filtering that and copy/pasting that yourself and so on, it would take maybe three, four hours to do it, if not more. And this is a very low practical use case, but it is also a use case that can save you a lot of time. So, yeah, just a simple use case, but that's how I see the beginning of all of this.
This sets the stage for the next question pretty well: as AI becomes increasingly integrated into accounting, what soft skills and human factors do you believe are essential for individuals to work alongside AI efficiently?
There's always going to be the need for humans to kind of validate whatever AI does. So it's not like they're taking away our job. I'm old enough to remember when mobile phones came out, when the Internet came out in the beginning, when computers started being everywhere.Everybody then was like, oh my God, it's taking away all our jobs now, and so on. But the basic fact here is that we just keep piling on new jobs and new skills. I was actually looking into taking a course in prompt engineering. That's a thing now, how to write a prompt.
For example, one of the industries that's been hit a lot by the whole AI thing is copywriting and advertising, because it is very good at writing text. Not yet amazing, if you ask me, but it's pretty good. And I talked to this young guy who used to be a copywriter. He said, from one day to another, my work just went away. I had no clients. So he went on LinkedIn, changed his title from copywriter to prompt engineer, and he took a two hour course on how to write those prompts. And two months later, he was fully booked again. I think it's going to take away jobs from the people that don't want to adapt. That’s just how new technology goes.
Every time something new comes up, you get left behind on the train station if you don't jump on that train. Another interesting point of conversation that I don’t think we have time for today is the question, “when should you jump on that train?”. AI is still finding its place in our everyday life, and my best expectation is still going to take at least one to two years before it kind of gets incorporated like the Internet is today, where nobody can really picture living without it.
But that train hasn't left the station yet?
No, but it's firing up. They're putting in the coal in this train.
Finally, considering your perspective on AI and the fact that you’re travelling to FAB all the way from Denmark, what do you appreciate about live events, especially as they resume compared to virtual or semi-virtual alternatives?
I love live events. I wouldn't say I hated covid, I kind of adapted to it. But the whole thing of not looking people in the eyes and shaking their hand, or giving them a hug or having a beer in the bar afterwards and so on, for me, that's the whole point of going to an event.
We can do an online meeting like you and I are now, and it’s great for just jumping on a call. “Hey, Lars, I have some questions”. But if you are in a role where you have to build those relationships, which is certainly my role at Kontolink, it's just so crucial that you get to meet these people and you get to do it, and, yeah, it nourishes my energy.
So I'm looking forward to coming to FAB and meeting a lot of great people.
We’re looking forward to having you there, counting down the days to this March
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