Accounts Payable and AI: Separating Fact from Fiction

Ira Brooker    June 28th, 2024

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If you’ve been on the internet at all in the past year, you’ve heard a lot about how artificial intelligence (AI) is poised to change the way we work. You likely also have some questions about what you’ve heard.

Is AI really as powerful as they say? Is it going to make your job obsolete? Is it just another tech trend that will blow over soon?

We’re still early in the process of figuring out how AI will impact the workplace. Even so, there are more than enough rumors and myths floating around to make it worth sorting out the facts.

In her recent MHC webinar “Accounts Payable and AI: Separating Fact from Fiction,” AP Now founder Mary Schaeffer lays out some AI accounts payable concerns she’s heard from AP professionals. Let’s explore some changes we can expect, as well as some issues that we might not need to worry about so much.

High-Volume Document Generation_Mary Schaeffer

There are some very real implications that we all need to understand in order to prepare ourselves to make sure we are part of the group that survives and thrives moving forward.
Mary Schaeffer, Founder of AP Now

Where Are We With AI Today?

Much of the current accounts payable AI conversation is hype and overblown theories. That makes it all the more important to be able to separate the real implications from the noise. AI is already a key part of the way the world does business. That influence is only going to expand in the immediate future.

That has many people concerned about what the new era will mean for their employment. Will algorithms really replace a sizable portion of American jobs? Mary Schaeffer says people are right to be interested in how this new tech will alter our work lives, but that the threat is overblown.

High-Volume Document Generation_Mary Schaeffer

Everybody’s job will change a little bit,” says Schaeffer. “It will not necessarily be eliminated, although parts of your job could be eliminated. It’s important to understand the difference, to be able to identify what’s going to change and then figure out what you have to do so you thrive and survive in the coming years.
Mary Schaeffer, Founder of AP Now

How to Get Started with AI

Defining what exactly we mean when we talk about generative AI in accounts payable is a bit tricky. The term is currently being used in a lot of contexts, often inaccurately. Schaeffer defines AI as any “creation of intelligent machines that can mimic human-like cognitive abilities.”

That definition supports the idea that AI isn’t as brand-new a technology as it’s often made out to be. Search engines, GPS-driven maps, online chatbots, and many other tools that we use on a daily basis rely on some degree of artificial intelligence. Many of the AI functions that now seem new and unsettling will likely soon be just as commonplace as those.

What is Generative AI?

Much of the current conversation around artificial intelligence revolves specifically around generative AI. IBM defines generative AI as “deep-learning models that can generate high-quality text, images, and other content based on the data they were trained on.”

Basically, these models collect raw data from other online sources. They use that information to determine statistically probable combinations of data points and generate new works that closely resemble human output. This is the technology that powers popular AI tools such as ChatGPT, Google Gemini, and Microsoft Copilot.

What is Machine Learning?

Machine learning (ML) is another frequently misunderstood buzzword in AI circles. MIT defines machine learning as a “subfield of artificial intelligence that gives computers the ability to learn without explicitly being programmed.”

Older prototypes of AI relied on specific human instruction to extract and interpret data. Newer technology is capable of learning from previous actions and making adjustments in ways that mimic human learning.

A whopping 97% of businesses now using some degree of machine learning. Technology such as natural language processing (NLP) is getting better and better at capturing human language. This technology is already a vital part of how the business world operates.

The Evolution of AI Fraud and Deepfakes

It’s true that many worries about AI have been overblown. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some legitimate things to be concerned about. Criminals have been finding ways to exploit AI just as quickly as legitimate users have found ways to put it to good use. AI fraud and deepfake technology are two areas that are still evolving, as are efforts to combat them.

Deepfakes — realistic videos, photos, or audio clips that use AI to fake the image or voice of a real person — have been in the news a lot lately. They’ve even prompted investigations by agencies including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Criminals have created videos purporting to show celebrities, co-workers, and classmates in salacious situations. AI has even impersonated President Joe Biden in a series of robocalls. On the business side, deepfake Zoom calls are an increasing threat that have defrauded companies out of millions of dollars.

AI is also generating phony business profiles on social media and other online outlets. Mary Schaeffer recounts several personal anecdotes of receiving LinkedIn invitations from scammers. She’s rejected requests from accounts posing as Saudi royalty, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, and actor Ryan Reynolds.

Schaeffer notes that the quality and sophistication of these fakes have improved radically over the past few years. They will only become harder to detect as more people figure out how to use ai in accounts payable.

High-Volume Document Generation_Mary Schaeffer

In less than one year they’ve gone from being laughable to realistic, so we expect a similar level of improvement going forward.
Mary Schaeffer, Founder of AP Now

Clues for Detecting and Preventing AI Fraud

As hard as it can be to tell legitimate communications from fraudulent ones, the situation isn’t hopeless. Being alert to and aware of the threat goes a long way, as does a clear-eyed assessment of the situation.

“You need to take a step back and say, is that voice on the phone really your boss?” Schaeffer says. “Just because you think you recognize the voice on the phone, that is no longer going to be enough, especially if you didn’t initiate the call.”

Schaeffer gives several tips for identifying a potential deepfake. “Look at the hands. AI has a difficult time with generating hands. Look for facial inconsistencies, like eyes looking the wrong way. When they’re talking, do their lips match the words that are coming out of their mouth?”

Is the person contacting you via an unusual channel, such as a boss who usually emails sending you a request via social media? Is the requestor asking you to keep your conversation or actions secret? Are they using words or phrases that would be unusual for them? Keeping an eye out for these inconsistencies may not catch every case of fraud, but it can be a major help.

Learn more about how to prevent accounts payable fraud schemes > 

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How organizations operate and how customers interact with those organizations has changed significantly, in ways we never could have imagined a mere five years ago. But as the smoke begins to clear and we get greater insight into how this unprecedented time in history will change behavior going forward, one thing has become crystal clear. Automation, in its many forms, is undeniably the foundation to enable successful communication. At MHC, we believe the organizations that leverage flexible, scalable and reliable automation functionality will quickly leapfrog their competition.

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WEBINAR

Accounts Payable and AI: Separating Fact from Fiction

Everywhere you look, there are stories about AI and how it will impact our lives and the business world. Many of these stories are filled with gloom and doom. Sign up to see AP Now Founder and Publisher Mary Schaeffer debunk myths and name truths on Accounts Payable and AI in our webinar!

Five Big AI Myths and Reality Behind Them

One stumbling block for businesses navigating the new world of artificial intelligence is the amount of myths and misinformation circulating. Mary Schaeffer breaks down five of the most visible myths about AI and explains the reality behind them.

Myth #1: AI will take my job

Reality: AI will change your job

While it’s true that AI is capable of doing many functions that have traditionally been performed by humans, the fear that automation will simply replace those roles is unfounded. Increased use of AI may lead some companies to downsize certain accounts payable roles.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that your job will be eliminated. It’s more likely that your job will require different skills and training.

High-Volume Document Generation_Mary Schaeffer

Finance and accounting functions are going to be less transactional,” says Schaeffer. “For example, as we’ve automated some of our invoice processing, we don’t have people opening paper copies of mail as much as you did in the past. Our roles are going to be more analytical, so we really need to hone our analytical skills.
Mary Schaeffer, Founder of AP Now

Myth #2: AI is too complicated for the average person

Reality: You don’t need to be an expert to use AI

It’s true that the technology that powers AI is complicated and technical. The same can be said of nearly any workplace tool. You may not understand the specifics of how an email gets to your inbox. That doesn’t mean that you don’t know how to use email.

Likewise, no one is going to expect an AP professional to know how to program AI. AP departments should approach it as an accounting software tool like any other.

High-Volume Document Generation_Mary Schaeffer

Think about Excel,” says Schaeffer. “People who work with spreadsheets just know how to use the tool. They’re not the ones creating all the new functionality behind the scenes. You just have to know how to do it, and take the time to learn it.
Mary Schaeffer, Founder of AP Now

Myth #3: AI creates issues with bias and privacy

Reality: OK, those are legitimate concerns

You’ve probably read stories about AI-generated content that engages in harmful bias and stereotypes. There have been news stores of AI violating people’s privacy, or sharing factually incorrect and even dangerous misinformation.

There’s no getting around the fact that these are real concerns with the current state of AI. While these situations are likely to improve as the technology advances, they remain problematic for users in every industry.

High-Volume Document Generation_Mary Schaeffer

Still, Schaeffer notes, these concerns are not generally the responsibility of the accounts payable department. “You and I, in our day-to-day operations, that’s not something that’s on our plate. Others are dealing with it, but it’s just not part of our purview.
Mary Schaeffer, Founder of AP Now

To avoid issues with bias and false information, approach AI content as you would any other data. Always make sure that AI-generated information has been double-checked and properly vetted. Remembering that no system is infallible should help avoid confusion and reduce harm.

Myth #4: My company will replace me with someone who knows AI better

Reality: That person can very easily be you

Businesses are increasingly looking for employees who understand how to navigate an artificial intelligence system, that much is true. However, it almost always costs a business less to retain an existing employee than to hire a new one. Your employer probably has a vested interest in keeping you on board. You just need to improve your AI skills, which isn’t nearly as hard as it may seem.

High-Volume Document Generation_Mary Schaeffer

Remember that AI is simply another tool that AP professionals can use to do their jobs more efficiently. “This is not the first evolution we’ve seen in accounts payable,” says Schaeffer. “We saw desktop computers come into the workspace, we saw Excel, we saw the internet. All of this radically changed the way we do our job, but it did not eliminate it. It changed it.

Knowledge of how to use AI is quickly going to the top of the list of what companies are looking for.
Mary Schaeffer, Founder of AP Now

Myth #5: AI will become a reality down the road, not now

Reality: Artificial intelligence is here NOW

It sometimes feels as if the AI revolution came out of nowhere. In fact, the current state of artificial intelligence has been in the works for decades. There are still many advancements and refinements to come. The version of AI we’re using today might look very different from what we’ll be using a few years down the line. Either way, AI is already a big factor in the modern business environment.

High-Volume Document Generation_Mary Schaeffer

I hear this a lot,” says Schaeffer. “Not just about AI, but whatever change is coming down the road, especially from people nearing retirement age. ‘AI is just down the road, so I don’t have to plan or adjust.’ No. It’s here, and it’s here now. You need to learn it.
Mary Schaeffer, Founder of AP Now

Again, it’s helpful to think of AI less as a revolution and more as a new business tool that can help you perform your job more efficiently. Eliminating manual data entry and other repetitive manual processes helps avoid costly human errors. By reducing manual tasks and limiting human intervention, you can streamline your accounts payable process considerably.

What Does the New Era of AI Mean For You?

We’ve seen that AI is already a major factor in the way accounts payable teams and businesses in general operate. It will remain that way for the foreseeable future. What does that mean for you as an AP professional?

The good news is that this is an opportunity for you to learn new skills and establish yourself as a leading voice within your organization. “Most of your management team probably knows AI is out there,” Schaeffer notes. “They know it can do wonderful things, but they don’t know how to do it. You can be that person who understands it.

By developing your skills and familiarizing yourself with the basics of AI tools and functionality, you can position yourself as an invaluable member of your AP team. That keeps you on top of the latest AI tools for accounts payable and helps your business stay ahead of the curve. AI driven tech also goes a long way in boosting fraud detection, securing early payment discounts, and finding new cost savings.

Ready to learn more about how AP automation software from MHC can help keep your team in the AI game? Contact us today to schedule a demonstration of our software solutions. One of our in-house AP experts will be in touch to discuss your specific needs. We’ll craft a solution tailor-made for your organization that integrates smoothly with your existing ERP system.

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Ira Brooker

Ira Brooker is a freelance writer and editor based in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He has been writing blogs and copy about software-as-a-service solutions for most of the past decade. Before exploring accounts payable and workflow solutions with MHC, he wrote about fields including cybersecurity, workforce management, online accessibility, audiology, retail sales, and much more. When he’s not doing business writing, he also indulges in writing fiction, journalism, arts criticism, and bar trivia.

Mary Schaeffer

Mary Schaeffer, AP Now’s Founder, has been creating content around the AP function for 20+ years. This material takes the form of a twice-a-week free ezine, a weekly podcast, a YouTube channel, a monthly newsletter, a variety of courses for accountants and AP professionals, and numerous webinars.

She served on the Business Payments Coalition and Federal Reserve’s Remittance Delivery Assessment Work Group and is currently a member of Nacha’s ACH Network Advisory Panel. Schaeffer has been named a Top AP Influencer for the last three years by the prestigious AP Association, a global organization headquartered in the UK. She also received the Well-Being for Others award from them in 2021 and was named Top AP Influencer in 2022.

She has a BS in Mathematics and an MBA in Finance. Before founding AP Now, she worked in corporate finance and treasury for three large multi-national companies.

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