How CPAs Can Use ChatGPT to Streamline Day-to-Day Work
A 2020 study from Sage found that almost half of accountants believe new technology tools aid in their productivity. ChatGPT, one of the new kids on the AI block, has been making waves in the business world over the past few months. Google’s Bard AI and Microsoft’s Bing AI have also been gaining traction, while other new AI tools continue to launch every day. How exactly can CPAs take advantage of these tools? We explored and tested out some key ways you can apply ChatGPT in your day-to-day work.
Throughout this article we’ll be focusing on ChatGPT, though many of the other tools can offer the same benefits. Want to explore options? Here’s a great round-up of ChatGPT alternatives.
What is ChatGPT?
Before we dive into ChatGPT’s specific applications to accounting, let’s learn more about the platform. AI tools like this operate with simple text-based requests, so we went straight to the source itself with our question: What is ChatGPT?
ChatGPT is an AI-powered language model developed by OpenAI. It is based on the GPT-3.5 architecture, which stands for "Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3.5." Language models like ChatGPT are designed to understand and generate human-like text based on the input they receive.
ChatGPT has been trained on a vast amount of data from the internet, allowing it to acquire knowledge on a wide range of topics. It can understand and generate coherent responses to text prompts, making it useful for tasks such as conversation, question-answering, summarization, and more.
In essence, ChatGPT and similar applications rely on existing internet knowledge to build their responses, though they’re becoming more sophisticated every day.
Now that we have a baseline understanding of the tool, let’s dive in to three categories of uses: Excel, Data Analysis and Business Administration.
How to use ChatGPT for Excel
One of the key ways accountants can implement ChatGPT is by using it for Excel support. Here are three common prompt categories:
Write Excel Formulas
Don’t remember that exact formula you used in a previous project? Not sure how to write the formula you need? Remove the Google search and use ChatGPT to get a more specific, detailed answer. Use a prompt that starts with “Write an Excel formula…” and provide your specifics from there. For example, we gave the prompt: “Write an Excel formula that adds columns A and B, but only if the values in Column B are greater than 500.”
ChatGPT not only gives you a formula, but an explanation:
To achieve this in Excel, you can use the SUMIFS function to add the values in columns A and B, but only when the values in column B are greater than 500. Here's the formula you can use:
- SUMIFS(A:A, B:B, ">500")
- This formula instructs Excel to sum the values in column A (A:A) based on the criteria that the corresponding values in column B (B:B) should be greater than 500. Adjust the column references (A:A and B:B) according to your specific data range.
- After entering the formula, press Enter, and Excel will calculate the sum of column A values where the corresponding column B values are greater than 500.
- Note: Make sure to input the formula in a cell other than columns A and B to avoid circular references.
Understand an Excel Formula
Inheriting a complex Excel document from another team member or client can come with a few headaches, especially if you don’t know the function of some of the formulas. ChatGPT can help you not only write formulas, but identify them. For example, if your doc included the formula =SUMIFS(A:A, B:B, ">500") from our previous example, your prompt could be: What is the function of the Excel formula =SUMIFS(A:A, B:B, ">500")? As before, it provides a detailed breakdown of the formula in addition to a brief explanation of what it does:
The function of the Excel formula =SUMIFS(A:A, B:B, ">500") is to calculate the sum of values in column A (A:A) based on specific criteria defined for column B (B:B).
Here's how the formula works:
- SUMIFS: It is an Excel function that calculates the sum of values that meet multiple criteria.
- A:A: This represents the range of values in column A. It specifies that the formula should consider all values in column A for summation.
- B:B: This represents the range of values in column B. It defines the criteria range where the condition will be evaluated.
- ">500": This is the condition or criteria that should be met for the corresponding values in column B. In this case, the condition is that the values in column B must be greater than 500 to be included in the sum.
By applying the SUMIFS formula with the specified criteria, Excel will add up all the values in column A for which the corresponding values in column B are greater than 500. The result will be the sum of those selected values.
Write Excel Macro Codes
In addition to cell formulas, ChatGPT can be a go-to tool for writing sophisticated macro VBA codes to supercharge your Excel worksheets.
Want to highlight all of the negative numbers? Delete rows that meet certain conditions? Identify your top 10 values? All of these operations can be performed with ChatGPT-created macro VBA code following the same prompting process. Not only does ChatGPT provide you with a properly formatted code to copy and paste, it gives you step-by-step instructions for how to implement it.
How to use ChatGPT for data analysis
Sifting through datasets can be time consuming. Implementing ChatGPT into your workflow can help speed along the process and jumpstart your analysis. Craft a prompt asking it to approach the data set like a data scientist, and copy and paste your data set or a sample to get started. Once it has the data, some possible paths for analysis include:
- Providing basic information. How many rows are there? How many columns? What are the highest and lowest values?
- Determining trends in the data set. What trends does it see? What are meaningful insights?
- Hypothesizing. What hypothesis can it make about the given data?
While ChatGPT isn’t a replacement for a sophisticated data analyst, its insights can prove to be great jumping off points. When we provided it with a very basic data set of fake names, ages, incomes, and cities, it provided very basic analysis, but also provided direction you could consider from there. For example, when asked to provide meaningful insights, it included:
Location and Population: The dataset includes individuals from different locations within Indiana, with Indianapolis and Fort Wayne being the most represented. This suggests that these two cities likely have larger populations or attract a higher number of participants in the dataset. Analyzing the distribution of participants across locations could provide insights into economic opportunities, urbanization, or other factors impacting the population distribution within Indiana.
How to use ChatGPT for business administration tasks
As a text-based application, ChatGPT can really shine when it comes to administrative tasks around communications.
Draft letters and emails.
We were particularly impressed when we tried out this prompt:
Please write an email from a CPA to their client inviting them to schedule an annual meeting to discuss lowering their tax liabilities for next year.
The response was detailed and professional, and even included an email subject line:
Subject: Annual Meeting – Strategizing to Lower Your Tax Liabilities in the Upcoming Year
I hope this email finds you well. As the end of the year approaches, it is an opportune time to reflect on your current tax situation and explore strategies to optimize your tax planning for the upcoming year. I am writing to invite you to schedule our annual meeting, where we can discuss key considerations and implement proactive measures to lower your tax liabilities.
Throughout the year, several tax laws and regulations may have changed, presenting new opportunities for tax optimization. By reviewing your financial situation and understanding your specific goals, we can tailor a comprehensive tax strategy to maximize deductions, credits, and exemptions, ultimately helping you minimize your tax burden.
During our meeting, we will:
- Review your financial records: We will thoroughly examine your income, expenses, investments, and any potential changes in your financial circumstances to gain a holistic understanding of your tax profile.
- Discuss recent tax law changes: I will provide you with an overview of significant tax law updates that may impact your tax liabilities, ensuring that we navigate any new provisions effectively.
- Identify tax-saving opportunities: Together, we will explore various strategies and incentives available to you, such as retirement contributions, educational credits, business deductions, and more, aiming to optimize your tax position for the upcoming year.
- Develop a tailored tax plan: Based on our discussions and analysis, I will develop a customized tax plan specifically designed to align with your financial objectives and minimize your tax liabilities.
I highly value our professional relationship, and I believe that proactive tax planning plays a pivotal role in achieving your financial goals. Your active participation in this process will allow us to tailor our approach to your unique circumstances and aspirations.
To schedule our annual meeting, please let me know your preferred date and time within the next two weeks. Alternatively, feel free to reach out to my assistant, [Assistant's Name], at [Assistant's Email/Phone], who will be happy to assist in finding a suitable time for us to connect.
I look forward to meeting with you and working collaboratively to develop a comprehensive tax strategy that best serves your needs.
Thank you for entrusting us with your tax matters. Your success is our priority.
There’s plenty of room to edit and input your own processes and messaging, but the draft is a solid place to start and can save you significant time, especially if you frequently find yourself staring at a blank document.
Other admin uses could include:
- Proofreading documents
- Drafting email responses
- Writing social media posts
- Creating a chatbot for your firm or organization’s website
- Drafting video scripts
- Outlining blog articles
- Developing questionnaires and forms
- Creating onboarding processes and questionnaires
How to set yourself up for ChatGPT success
ChatGPT and similar tools are not without their flaws and limitations. Even ChatGPT itself reminds that “while ChatGPT is a powerful tool for generating text, it is not infallible and may occasionally produce incorrect or nonsensical responses.” It also garnered attention for its recent failing of a practice CPA Exam.
You also have to know what to do with it. Getting the most out of ChatGPT requires a human skill to engineer prompts that will produce the best responses. You also still need a human to critically determine if a response is correct and edit drafts it produces (like customer letters) to better tailor to your needs.
One thing is for sure, though: ChatGPT and similar applications are the future of business. Experimenting and learning them now is critical for staying competitive.