“There isn’t a single answer to fixing the cyber security problem,” says Rainbird CEO

"There isn't a single answer to fixing the cyber security problem," says Rainbird CEO

Ben Taylor, CEO of Rainbird, has spoken to Accountancy Age about technology in accounting and what the future might bring

What is Rainbird?

Rainbird – founded in 2013 – is an automation platform powered by AI; it provides services to all aspects of the financial sector. Predominantly, their clientele involves large enterprises, although this does veer into the likes of insurance, legal, and government.

The idea for the company was prompted by previous limitations felt within business. Ben Taylor, the CEO of Rainbird, says that “we’ve found that something gets lost in translation between the people with the expertise and processors encoding in software.”

“We built Rainbird as the platform we wish we would have had and have developed it from there,” Taylor tells Accountancy Age.

He continues: “Rainbird is all about enabling subject matter experts in an organisation to encode what they know about their world, and their domain, to allow other people to come and ask questions, to make decisions—perhaps over some data. But, crucially, when Rainbird makes a decision, it provides an audit trail; it gives you a justification for how it came up with that answer.”

To do this, Rainbird took on a group of people who were experts in the field of audit recording. They then took that expertise and exposed it to the insurers.

“But, central to what Rainbird is,” Taylor concludes, “is the idea that subject matter experts encode what they know about the world, non-experts ask questions, and the answers to those questions always come with a justification for how we arrived at that answer.”

Is machine learning enough?

Although the accountancy sector is making inroads in the world of technological innovation, Taylor has cited concerns over the restrictions current technology could place on accountants.

“We see a lot of accountants using machine learning or statistical approaches to look at prior data, in order to make some predictions about the future, or to make some kind of recommendation,” says the CEO.

Technology like machine learning is a domain that is, at first glance, entirely suited to data-driven accountancy.

“It’s a domain where you have large amounts of prior data,” says Taylor. “In principle, machine learning has a great application [in accountancy], using statistics and effects to make future predictions.”

However, machine learning is not without its restrictions, and this could be what is slowing down the growth of technological implementation in practice.

Taylor explains: “The problem is that those machine learning models tend to be ‘black box’ in nature. It’s very hard to know how a piece of machine learning has come up with the decision, recommendation, or answer that it’s given.

“That causes two problems. It causes a problem for the regulator. When you use these types of technology to automate decision making, you need to be able to justify to the regulator why you have made that decision.

“And that means we’re seeing those kinds of technology not getting the adoption they have been getting in other sectors quite as much.”

Trust in technology

The second issue machine learning in accounting practices risks is that of trust.

“We firmly believe that, in order for technology to be widely adopted, it needs to be understood by the users adopting it,” Taylor tells Accountancy Age. “If you can’t explain what’s going on inside the box, then your end users can’t understand it, so you see a failure of adoption.”

Transparency is vital in a profession like accountancy for, without it, trust cannot be established between the account and the client, or between the accountant and the regulator. In more public cases, transparency is key to avoiding any kind of media scandal.

As a result, regulatory rules are constantly evolving to ascertain that there is fair play in the financial sector.

For a company such as Rainbird – one that provides a business with an audit trail, so they can easily justify actions taken or decisions made – they adhere to this need for transparency, thus allowing for trust to be established with the end users.

Protection against cyber threats

Cyber security is still a relatively new threat that businesses all over the world are having to combat.

Questions have been raised as to whether the likes of the UK government are able to keep up with these constant innovations and developments within cyber crime, thus meaning that businesses find themselves even more at risk and with a lack of stable support.

Undoubtedly, the financial sector faces more of a risk than other areas of UK businesses.

Technology can introduce life-changing and time-saving processes to an accountant’s daily responsibilities, but the potential risks are not so easily accepted by a naturally risk-averse industry.

When asked by Accountancy Age how accountants can use technology and AI to help protect against cyber threats, Taylor replies: “AI has a really important role to play in that area, because cyber security is a data game. It’s all about being able to watch for patterns in the data you’re seeing, whether that’s network access, logs, transactions data—wherever that might be. It looks for patterns of unusual behaviour, and that’s somewhere machine learning does have a strong role to play.

“We’re able to frame systems on what ‘good’ looks like, allow it to look for anomalies, and proactively flag to humans when it sees something that is an anomaly. Of course, the real challenge is then: ‘What does a human do with that information?’”

This is an area of technology in accounting that Rainbird fits in to. Their ability to provide an audit trail for their clients means that these anomalies can be flagged along the way, and this evidence can be used when justifying choices made.

With cyber threats, Taylor emphasises that “it’s very important that you take action very quickly, and that you can explain why you have taken that action.”

This is where machine learning provides accountants with some stability, Taylor explains. It can “proactively monitor very large amounts of data in a way that no human could possibly do.”

“There isn’t a single answer to fixing the cyber security problem”

Cyber crime is a hugely diverse field that contains several threats within it. For anyone in the financial sector, half the battle is simply trying to identify exactly which areas are the biggest problem for that specific business.

“I think the very first thing is to look at what the threat landscape really looks like before you,” Rainbird’s CEO recommends. “You need to consider where those risks might lie, and then look at what technologies might mitigate those risks. There isn’t a single answer to fixing the cyber security problem.”

The future of technology in accountancy

When asked about what he views to be the next big technological change in the financial sector, Taylor replies: “I think we’re going to see a big change in audit in the next few years. We’re already starting to see it.”

“As machine learning starts to take more prevalence – and technologies like Rainbird sits comfortably beside them – audit functions will become more data science led. What auditors will be really trying to do is understand the reasons behind the way decisions were made, and those decisions are increasingly automated.

“[Practices] that have good data science skills in-house, or are part of an audit function, are going to be absolutely crucial.

Taylor concludes: “We’ve positioned Rainbird in a position to alleviate that problem, and we have some active search and development ongoing.”

With audit scandals constantly saturating the media, it is an interesting angle to question whether technology could help eliminate high-profile human error.

 

What are your thoughts on technology in accountancy? Reach out to us on Twitter to get involved in the discussion: @AccountancyAge

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