Date posted: 20/07/2023 5 min read

ChatGPT in practice

Beyond the eye-grabbing headlines, can you use ChatGPT in your accounting firm? Heather Smith FCA has put it to the test.

In Brief

  • ChatGPT is a form of artificial intelligence based on a large language model, so it can generate natural-sounding written responses to prompts.
  • Accountants can use ChatGPT to research finance and business topics, get advisory approaches, and generate emails, job adverts, social posts and blogs.
  • ChatGPT has limitations, and its responses must be checked and verified.

Imagine a librarian who reads every book on the planet. She then gets a pair of scissors and cuts out every word of every book and throws the words into the air like confetti. When you ask a question, the response is the most popular confetti word, followed by the next most popular word and so on. In simplistic terms, this is how ChatGPT works – drawing on a vast database of information – but not all of the source information is accurate and the next most popular confetti word may be nonsense.

What is ChatGPT?

ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot developed by OpenAI. Chat refers to a chatbot and GPT is the acronym for generative pre-trained transformer: a type of large language model (LLM). ChatGPT can be accessed at or via AI-enabled Bing on the Microsoft Edge web browser. Similar solutions include Google Bard (LaMDA or language model for dialogue applications) and Tongyi Qianwen (from Alibaba).

How do I use ChatGPT?

ChatGPT is my new virtual assistant, brainstormer, an expert in any given topic, researcher and copywriter. If I want to have some fun with it, I can ask it to write accounting poems and jokes. It sits open on my desktop all day.

ChatGPT is different from a web browser. Rather than asking siloed questions, I start a conversation by sending prompts. I can brainstorm with ChatGPT on almost anything. I can ask it for checklists, policy documents, step-by-step processes, job descriptions, job adverts, different versions of the same content and email responses. It can even write a macro or do some coding for me.

The context of past messages is retained within the conversation. I can seek clarification by rephrasing the question, asking more questions, or giving it additional information to achieve the desired outcome.

For example, I started a conversation with ChatGPT and asked: ‘I have this data, how can I analyse it?’. It suggested various ways to analyse the data and, if needed, I could ask for the relevant formulas. I then asked ChatGPT how could I visually display this data and it responded with various graphical suggestions. I then asked, ‘Can you provide me step by-step instructions on how to do that in a spreadsheet?’.

If I plan to revisit an interaction, I clearly rename the conversation because it’s currently a bit cumbersome to find old ones.

ChatGPT in practice Image credit: Alamy
“ChatGPT is my new virtual assistant, brainstormer, an expert in any given topic, researcher and copywriter.”

How can I use ChatGPT for advisory work?

When I initiate a conversation with ChatGPT, I tell it that it’s an expert in the topic.

ChatGPT prompt: ‘You’re an expert Australian small business accountant. What are the most important metrics to measure the success of a small Brisbane cafe?’.

While its response was general, it mentioned the average transaction value, customer traffic and the importance of customer reviews.

I asked, ‘What advice should I give this small cafe in Brisbane? Their year-to-date profit and loss are as follows…’ and I entered anonymous data.

ChatGPT offered a variety of advice, including that I needed to review cost of sales, evaluate operating expenses and seek opportunities for revenue growth. While it’s elementary, this is a good foundation to start a conversation with a business owner or assist me in training someone.

How do I use ChatGPT for content?

ChatGPT helps me write all sorts of content, from awkward emails to clients, to website copy and social media posts. When I ask ChatGPT to assist me in writing I need to tell it my writing style, the desired tone, who the audience is and the platform I’ll be publishing on.

I sent ChatGPT the following message: ‘You’re an expert writing style analyser; describe my writing style in terms that help me describe it to ChatGPT, so you can create content in my voice. Here are three examples to analyse…’.

ChatGPT provided a comprehensive response, which is the foundation for generating authentic copy in my voice. I’m mindful that my email voice differs from my social media voice, so I have several styles for different purposes.

Unfortunately, as accountants we navigate a lot of energy-sapping awkward conversations, including highlighting ethical issues, delivering bad financial news and chasing late payments. I tell ChatGPT: 'In a kind, empathetic tone, write a concise email chasing our client, Jane, for the documents we need to finish her tax lodgements’.

The response is too long, so I reply, ‘This is too long. Can you shorten it to two paragraphs?’.

I copy suitable phrases and use them as the framework of a personalised letter for Jane, saving time and brain power.

Limitations of ChatGPT

I use the paid version of ChatGPT. It includes the option for web browsing, but if that’s not activated the data source is only until late 2021 (be mindful of this limitation when researching legislation).

ChatGPT may produce inaccurate information about people, places or facts. It literally makes things up – including quotes and sources – so you need to verify responses.

The data settings automatically default to sharing your content with a public library, which does not stress me too much and I avoid sharing anything confidential.

Annoyingly, ChatGPT defaults to American everything! I always need to prompt for Australian English spelling and accessing Australian sources where relevant.

So, who wrote this column?

This article has not been written by ChatGPT, but I’d struggle to prove that. If I gave ChatGPT instructions to use my writing style and compose an opinion piece on ChatGPT in the accounting world, ChatGPT could write it in a few seconds, plus throw in some made-up believable stories. But I think you’d know, and my authenticity and credibility would be damaged. So, I use it to loosely inspire me, tighten up my column and personalise it. And I use ChatGPT to proofread it.

Accountants won’t be replaced by AI. Accountants who embrace AI will get the tech and robots to do the repetitive process-driven tasks, freeing them up to spend more time with the client, building relationships and human connections, and doing the higher value, interesting work.

Accountants who embrace AI will replace accountants who don’t.


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