PricewaterhouseCoopers is turning some of the digital tools it developed internally to train its staff into artificial intelligence products its clients can use in their finance departments.
The Big Four firm has packaged together the products it’s developed over the past three and a half years into a set of applications it calls Digital on Demand. They include apps for analyzing invoices for fraud, identifying cost reductions from credit card bills, and automatically reading and processing details from tax forms, invoices and other financial documents.
The online tools build on the ProEdge upskilling apps the firm showcased last fall for training employees (see story). That started with its own employees, but now PwC is rolling them out to clients, many of whom are working remotely during the pandemic.
“A couple of years ago, we started our digital journey at PwC, where we really said it’s not just about putting technology in our people’s hands, but we really have to digitally upskill our workforce,” said PwC Labs and tax technology leader Michael Shehab. “We’ve been on that journey for about three and a half to four years. As part of our digital upskilling journey, it was not our original intent, but we realized we had created a lot of intellectual property in technology. As we upskilled our employees, we realized the industry and communities needed a lot of upskilling as well.”
PwC tried to make the tools as usable and familiar as online shopping apps. The firm has now provided its clients with around 350 “digital accelerators” for various uses.
“Whether you’re in a controllership, internal audit, a tax function, a finance department, or a forecasting department, we believe we have created a digital accelerator that can drive additional productivity,” said Shehab. “In the process of driving productivity for our clients, you’re also learning the tool and learning the technology and you’re digitally upskilling.”
After testing out the digital accelerators internally until they’re mature, PwC markets them to its clients. “Within the tax space, we have many assets that extract information from tax forms,” said Robin Stein, director of PwC Labs. “PwC’s AI models are incorporated within Digital on Demand, so the user has the benefit of PwC’s investment in data scientists and annotating models, and extracting information from tax forms. There are a number of data workflows to think about on state and local tax calculations, and being able to calculate that on a state by state basis, where PwC has the domain knowledge and makes sure the business logic is up to date. The user would be able to come in and leverage that by just downloading the app and using it.”
The tools can help clients deal with state and local tax audits by extracting information from tax forms, legal documents and other sources. “You have the ability to really take the words and numbers off of a page, digitize them and analyze them,” said Shehab.
Clients can use the apps to assess the impact of recent tax and finance legislation like the CARES Act on their company. “There are a number of visualizations that will model out the impact of the changes in tax legislation,” said Stein. “That’s definitely of primary importance for clients right now.”
PwC clients are using the apps in various industries, including financial services and manufacturing, but tech clients have been using them the most. “The technology industry tends to be savvy, and they like modern-day tools like this, so we’ve had a lot of success with the technology industry,” said Shehab.
Corporate clients can use the tools for modeling the multinational provisions of the U.S. tax system. “At this point in time, we’re not focused on global taxes, but some of the international components that go into a U.S. tax return,” said Shehab.
So far, the Digital on Demand set of tools has attracted positive interest from clients since PwC made the apps available in December. “It’s been a pretty overwhelming response in the market in this post-COVID environment,” said Shehab. “We didn’t release it because of COVID, but everyone’s working virtually. Everyone’s concerned about how to continue to upskill their workers in this not-in-person environment, so this has hit very well. This really enables you to drive more productivity and in a very digital, virtual way.”
He sees Digital on Demand as a follow-up to the ProEdge digital training tools that PwC made available last fall and predicts that more of them will be coming in the future. “You’re going to see a pattern more and more from PwC that we’re taking all of our intellectual property and turning it into products and offerings to the market,” he said.
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