The printing press. The steam engine. The assembly line. These technologies revolutionized the way we work and set humanity on a different course for productivity. And now Jasen Stine, training leader at Intuit, is drawing attention to what he calls the “fourth industrial revolution.”
Stine spoke with Radical CPA and Botkeeper partner Jody Padar at AICPA Engage about how the emergence of artificial intelligence and automation is turning the accounting world upside down in the same way previous industrial revolutions transformed other industries.
He also explained how Intuit is using artificial intelligence to make earning CPE more engaging. Stine explains his special role in helping the engineers create the software, and he talks about what it was like to create technology and what he wanted the technology to be able to do.
Padar also asked Stine hard-hitting questions like what he did last night in Vegas, to which Stine offered a surprisingly rebellious answer for someone in accounting.
Have a listen to the short interview (under 20 minutes long) below, or read on for an edited version.
Jody Padar: Welcome back. I'm Jody Padar, the Radical CPA, and you're listening to Let's Get Radical live at the AICPA Engage Conference in Las Vegas. Our next guest is Jasen Stine and I'm going to have him introduce himself and tell us a little bit about his role at Intuit, and then we’re going to talk about the future.
Jasen Stine: So as you mentioned, I'm Jasen Stine. I work for Intuit. I lead training and education for the tax accounting industry, which is funny. When people outside of the industry ask me that question, I say it sounds really boring, but it's actually the coolest job in the world because I get to talk to a lot of really smart people both inside of Intuit and out in the industry—people who are out there in the leading firms, leading with advisory services, and then I get to partner with them, and then we develop and deliver education programs.
Padar: Awesome. We go way back, and I have to give us a shout out. I became part of the Intuit trainer network like 11 or 12 years ago. And who selected me and said, "Hey, Jody, do you want to be a teacher for Intuit?"
Stine: I think that might have been me.
Padar: It was you! I actually think it's exciting because we've come full circle. So, yeah, Intuit has had a pretty big impact in my thought leadership over the last few years. So, you're talking about something called the fourth industrial revolution concept. Tell me what this is.
Stine: Yeah, so the fourth industrial revolution is really just AI, machine learning, blockchain. We've all been talking about it, but economists are calling it the fourth industrial revolution because if you go back, the first was the steam engine, which helped us move faster—trains and all that. Then the assembly line, so think Ford Motor Company, and then robotics. Now that we have that, this is just the next thing.
Padar: So when it's the next thing, is it a good thing or a bad thing?
Stine: Well, I mean, I think it depends on who you ask, right? I think there's a lot out there that says our jobs are going away. But I don't necessarily think that's wholly true. I think a lot of the tasks are going away. We invented computers to make our lives easier. This is the next evolution of that. We're making computers smarter so that we can eliminate the tasks that will free us up to focus on more important things.
Padar: And how has the industry embraced it? Do they like it? Do they not like it? Are they going with it? Are they fighting it?
Stine: That makes me think of an example. I was talking with the pro advisory leader, Misty Mahia, and we were talking about this concept, and I was talking about this example of how tailors over the years, if you kind of equate the same example. They started with a needle and thread, and then the sewing machine came, and then the assembly line came, and then robotics came, and it just continued to automate the process.
But what I learned from her—she shared an interesting story that people were actually protesting in the streets when the sewing machine came. That's a dramatic example, but I don't think that it needs to be as scary. I think that this is a breath of fresh air if we approach it with the right mindset that we can automate a lot of these tasks and make our lives easier. That's why we invented computers. Think about the dawn of tax prep software. Is anybody out there still doing returns by hand? Of course not.
Padar: No, it's just automation. It's so funny that you say that as we talk about the industrial revolutions and whatever, because, you know, I think about it in terms of innovation. For the last 13 years, we've really been doing incremental innovation. Like a little bit of an innovation at a time. But what this fourth industrial revolution is going to make us do is kind of rethink everything. Kind of make a blank slate and start fresh?
Stine: Sort of, I mean doing taxes and doing bookkeeping is still compliance work that we still have to do. I think it's just in how we approach our services. That's what's different. So that's where we lean into advisory. That's where the expertise of the accounting industry really lies. It's not in producing a tax return. It's not in punching in numbers.
Talking with people here at the conference and in our classes, these are the folks that are leading the way. The leading firms are here. I think that's really cool. It's really neat to talk to the radical firms. They've flipped the model. So rather than building business models around producing tax returns and doing bookkeeping services, sure, they're still doing that. That's not going to go away. But what they're leading with is planning, advice, guidance, expertise, experience. CPAs get the opportunity to work with all kinds of different kinds of businesses, big and small.
So there's just a breadth of knowledge and expertise they can share along with the solutions and the data and the insights. Put that all together. And what CPAs’ clients really want is the help. They want the help to grow.
Padar: So how is Intuit responding to that and helping their pro advisors evolve?
Stine: Hopefully we’re doing that well. I think there's a long road ahead. I think we've done some great things working with thought leaders and experts internally and out in the industry. We've built some great education programs. We've got webinar programs out there on working virtually with remote teams so that you're no longer bound to your local area for hiring staff because we know it's difficult to find folks that are passionate about this industry and know what they're doing. We're continuing to build more programs that are helping people transform their practices.
Padar: Yeah. Someone told me that you have a patent out there? Can you tell me a little bit about what this patent does or what's involved in it?
Stine: Well, so what happened was we built this training experience and the engineering team actually came to me internally and said, "Hey, we want to implement AI technology into your training experience." I thought, "Seriously, wow. Education and AI together—I never would've paired that." But, we built a natural language processing engine which takes basically all the feedback and synthesizes it for us automatically using AI technology so that we can see how people are receiving the education that we're providing. And then we can use that to continue to see if they're actually learning, to see if it's relevant to them.
Padar: Wow. So if it can learn that, then it gives you the opportunity as a training leader to help train them better. Is that the idea behind it? We can then give them better training or improve the training so that we know that people are learning as opposed to just click, click? When you think about CPE, you press the button. Yeah. And you sit there and listen to a one-hour webinar. “The code word is ‘food.’”
Stine: Right, so that you're engaged in the training. It's also so that it's effective, that you're taking away what it is that the education is intended to help you understand. And then it also helps us understand what is catching people's interest and what is not interesting so that we can shape the programs.
Padar: So, almost like gamification? To get them engaged to continue on.
Stine: I think that’s the next step. You could definitely use this technology for gamification. Some of the high tech that we have in our experiences does help create a bit of a personalized curriculum. So it'll see what you're engaging in. Look at the rest of the data and then suggest content to you. And then just keep moving you down the path of relevant content that’s right for you.
Padar: That actually sounds fun. When I think CPE, let's face it, I think boring. And now it’s thinking the way I think.
Stine: Right. It learns what you're taking part in. And then the possibilities are limitless because eventually it can look at all the data about you or I and say, "Here's where you are in your journey. Here's where we know you want to go. And here's the education to get you there."
Padar: Awesome. So that wasn't your initial role, right? Because you're really like a training leader, right? What was it like to work with the engineering teams to develop this and figure it out?
Stine: It was like, what do they call it when you submerge you in a culture and you have to learn the language? I felt like I was in Greece and everybody was speaking a completely different language. It was really neat. I learned, I picked up a couple of things, I could follow along enough. But most of the time, I would just say, "Guys, can you dumb this down for me? Because I don't know what you're talking about." And then they'd ask me the question again. So my role was to help them shape what the technology should do.
Padar: Everyone thinks that you have to be this computer person to understand AI and ML. But really what they need is these business translators to help the programmers program the AI or ML to do what it needs to do. You really were that business leader to help the engineers figure it out, right?
Stine: Right. Essentially.
Padar: So I actually see that role kind of evolving for accountants as well. Kind of helping learn what the data's going to do or helping us tell the programmers how we want to access that data for data analytics.
Stine: I think that's an excellent point. And it really ties back to what I was saying earlier, where the technology is an augmentation of ourselves. The work centers around humans, it always has, always will. Every single revolution that we've had—first through the now—it’s always coming back to, "How is it enabling us to unlock our creative potential and make a bigger impact on the world?"
Padar: Yeah, I'm really excited about the future. I know there are people who are scared and whatever. But you know what? The world is moving, and we can choose to move with it or it'll leave us behind. We might as well embrace the changes and just learn about it and get excited about advisory and how we can help our clients, which ultimately is our goal.
So my big question for you for this Engage podcast has been because we're live in Las Vegas. So my big question is, what did you do last night in Vegas?
Stine: We went out to a nice team dinner and then they decided to tell the restaurant that it was my fiftieth birthday.
Padar: Wow, happy birthday! Or wasn't it?
Stine: It's not. It was really funny because the restaurant staff brought out like a drink for me. The candle. And, you know, it was obvious that it was not my birthday, but they made a big joke out of it. It was hilarious.