Consulting firms forge a unique partnership: AI working in tandem with CAs

As consulting firms embrace artificial intelligence for routine functions, employees handling tasks that can be assigned to emerging technologies will need to be upskilled. (Pixabay)
As consulting firms embrace artificial intelligence for routine functions, employees handling tasks that can be assigned to emerging technologies will need to be upskilled. (Pixabay)

Summary

Consulting firms are weaning off the practice of increasing headcount to drive business, relying more on artificial intelligence and generative AI to speed up and diversify their services, including for complex tasks such as handling tax functions

NEW DELHI : Consulting firms have begun practising what they’ve been preaching: bet on artificial intelligence to rein in costs. For employees, though, particularly those in the junior ranks, it’s been at their cost.

Consulting firms are investing more on AI as they seek to speed up and diversify their services, gradually weaning off the practice of increasing headcount to drive business, especially for routine tasks that can be handled by emerging technology.

Uniqus Consultech, for instance, is raising $10 million from its partners to support its diversification into technology consulting.

“The way we will measure our business is not necessarily based on the increase in the number of partners and directors, but how fast we are able to scale up our revenues without increasing headcount," said Jamil Khatri, co-founder and CEO of Uniqus, which offers consulting services in the areas of environment, social and governance (ESG), and financial reporting.

“That’s the beauty of our model, and we want it to be tech-led and not necessarily people-led," Khatri said.

Also read: The smartest way to use AI at work

To be sure, as consulting firms embrace artificial intelligence for routine functions, several employees, especially those handling tasks that can be assigned to emerging technologies, will need to be upskilled.

Uniqus, which has 25 of its 40 global partners and directors based in Gurugram, Bengaluru and Mumbai, offers a free AI assistant for financial reporting and ESG functions to its clients and to the public, and has a tech platform for ESG data management and reporting.

The consulting firm’s greenhouse gas accounting platform also uses AI, Khatri said.

Global consulting firm Deloitte too is harnessing AI to drive productivity and ensure regulatory compliance. 

Nitin Kini, chief operating officer, Deloitte South Asia, said embracing AI and generative AI, or GenAI, is a primary area of expansion for the firm, with nearly half of the company’s professionals having backgrounds in engineering and technology.

Kini, however, added that this goes hand-in-hand with upskilling the firm’s employees to handle emerging technology.

“While acknowledging the transformative impact of AI on job dynamics, we firmly believe in the irreplaceable value of human expertise. Accordingly, we are prioritising investments in reskilling and upskilling initiatives to equip our people for the evolving landscape," said Kini.

Delivering more with less

The tax function of consulting firms makes for a fit use-case in employing artificial intelligence. Industry experts pointed out that while audit teams typically comprise only chartered accountants, professionals with technology backgrounds are increasingly being roped in as well.

Tax functions typically involve analysing mountains of documents and data related to law, rules, court rulings, contracts, and financial information—a time-consuming process that can be made faster and more efficient by leveraging generative AI, or GenAI, according to industry executives.

Pratik Jain, partner at PwC India, said tasks such as document search, summarisation or analysis can be done seamlessly using GenAI, which helps in bringing efficiency as it saves time and enables users to focus on value-addition. 

Also read: ‘Need another technology leap for AI to start reasoning like humans’

“Tax advisors are increasingly looking at using GenAI for some of these functions. For example, can a draft reply to a tax notice be prepared by AI if we have a robust database of all case laws, notifications, etc?," said Jain. “Likewise, the Industry can also use GenAI for their internal analysis of position papers, standard operating procedures, etc."

Suraj Nangia, managing partner at Nangia Andersen LLP, ventures a step further, insisting that AI is poised to disrupt the consulting landscape by enabling high-level cognitive processes, including problem-solving and decision-making.

“Nangia-Andersen has been proactively exploring to leverage AI-based systems of text analytics in collaboration with an AI solution provider, which would help in prediction and monitoring of audit compliances," said Nangia. “This will reduce man hours invested in ensuring tax audits and regulatory compliances, and enable real-time monitoring of compliances within an audit cycle."

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