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Tax talkback: QuickBooks launches Canada’s first voice-based accounting chatbot

Intuit Inc.’s  voice activated accounting chatbot is coming to Canada.

Small businesses tired of trying to get their accountants on the phone will soon be able to ask accounting questions directly into their smartphones – if they use Intuit’s QuickBooks software.

The QuickBooks Assistant chatbot will be available in QuickBooks Online and as an iOS and Android app for QuickBooks Self-Employed. No specific release date was announced for the chatbot, but in a news release issued Tuesday, Intuit said the feature “is coming soon” to the Canadian market.

Ask-based accounting

QuickBooks users will be able to communicate with Assistant through text messages as well as spoken word. In an interview at Tuesday’s QuickBooks Connect conference in Toronto, Intuit Canada president Jeff Cates said the user interface is designed to save time and remove operational barriers for SMBs.

Intuit demonstrated a beta version of its QuickBooks Assistant chatbot at a technology showcase event in New York City in March. (Photo: Intuit)

“Small businesses shouldn’t have to know how to navigate a system to get answers. It’s just ‘ask a question, get an answer’ and you no longer have to worry about it,” Cates said.

According to the news release, QuickBooks Assistant “understands intent and identifies context” due to its artificial intelligence (AI). Besides giving users simple information like how much money they made last month, it can also tell them how long their current cash flow will last or how profitable their most recent customer was compared to the previous five.

Cates called that process “contextual AI.” In the future, he said, Intuit hopes to add predictive AI. With that capability, the chatbot would make proactive suggestions and recommendations to the user in order to generate the best potential outcome for their business finances.

“Then you can enable scenario planning. Then you can start having the system actually prompt you and say, ‘You should do this,’” Cates said.

Reading faces

Intuit has recently sharpened its focus on AI and other emerging technologies. In March, it held a New York City event showcasing 26 in-house experiments with technologies like chatbots, wearables and virtual reality. According to Intuit SEO architect Jake Martin, the company is even testing software that senses a user’s mood based on their facial expression.

“We’re experimenting with emotion detection to help discern emotions that drive a better end user product experience. For example, if you were frustrated by not receiving a tax refund, this software could detect that and help explain to you why this happened,” Martin wrote in a post on the Intuit blog site.

Intuit Canada president Jeff Cates

While QuickBooks Assistant isn’t the first accounting chatbot, it is the first one to use a voice-based interface. The Pegg chatbot, launched by Intuit rival Sage, communicates through text messaging within apps like Slack and Facebook Messenger. The AskMyUncleSam chatbot also uses text messaging and, as its name implies, only answers accounting questions involving the U.S. tax system.

Intuit also unveiled a partnership with CIBC at Tuesday’s event. Existing CIBC customers can now integrate their banking information directly with their QuickBooks accounts.

“QuickBooks will automatically be connected to your CIBC account and now your (accounting) data just flows over it. It auto-matches, so you spend virtually no time matching up” banking and accounting statements, Cates said.

CIBC is the first major Canadian bank to directly integrate financial account data with QuickBooks, he added.