Embracing AI in professional services

AI in the professions

New opportunities and risks in a changing world.

Responding to change may mean rethinking many of the ways professional services firms currently work – and that means keeping pace with technological change, particularly around AI.

John Aldred

Industry Director, Business and Professional Services, Barclays Corporate Banking

Embracing AI in professional services

65% of lawyers agree that generative AI will increase efficiency ref: 1
12% of accounting and audit firms are already using or planning to integrate ChatGPT and generative AI ref: 2
36% of lawyers have never used AI in a personal or professional capacity ref: 1

Professional services firms have had multiple headwinds to contend with in recent times, from Brexit and the Covid pandemic to a challenging economic environment and increasing geopolitical conflict.

Dealing with uncertainty seems to have become the ‘new normal’, requiring considerable resilience and perhaps fostering a more cautious outlook across the sector.

The firms that thrive against this backdrop are likely to be those that are able to stay focused on longer-term business strategies, looking beyond current challenges to grasp the opportunities ahead.

Staying abreast of developments around technology, particularly artificial intelligence (AI), is likely to be vital to firms’ future success. Almost impossible to ignore, AI is creating huge interest among firms as both users of and advisers on this increasingly popular technology. To maximise that potential, firms must have a practical understanding of the advantages and the risks associated with AI – for both themselves and their clients.

Here, we share thoughts on the impact of AI on the sector of guest speakers at Barclays’ most recent Professional Services Conference.

Our thanks to:
Katelyn Brown, Financial Services Consulting Leader, Deloitte UK
Aster Crawshaw, Senior Partner, Addleshaw Goddard
Paul Lewis, Managing Partner, Linklaters
Julia Penny, ICAEW Immediate Past President.

Transforming the way firms work

Does transformative technology like artificial intelligence mean the death of lawyers? No. Will it supercharge what our lawyers can deliver for clients? Absolutely.

Paul Lewis

Managing Partner, Linklaters

Everyday impact

Deployment of AI software is of course already fundamentally transforming the day-to-day operations of many professional services firms, whether through automating practice management, providing virtual assistants or revolutionising legal research and contract review.

Paul Lewis of Linklaters says: “It sounds prosaic but with AI you can ask natural language search questions and get remarkably accurate results instantly. When half your job is finding stuff, the potential impact of AI is transformational. And we’re clear, that’s something we want to take advantage of.”

Strategic vs iterative approach

Firms and their clients are likely to continue experimenting to find the next generation of use cases for AI, but Katelyn Brown of Deloitte UK believes looking to earlier lessons learned from the implementation of ERP systems will help: “Firms need to ask themselves how AI will impact their people and culture and think about legal impacts and other risks from the very beginning.”

Addleshaw Goddard’s Aster Crawshaw suggests firms need to stay focused on AI solutions that ultimately improve services for clients, but supports the idea of ‘supervised play’ to allow employees to experiment safely with AI.

Data challenges

Turning to the subject of use of personal data, Aster Crawshaw says: “You’ve always got to be careful not to put confidential client data at risk. When we speak to clients about AI, this is their number one concern.”

Paul Lewis agrees, pointing to advances in digital security as well as a series of rigorous stops and checks in helping allay clients’ fears: “If we’d asked clients to put data in the cloud 10 years ago, they’d have said no, but we’re all doing that now and it’s perfectly safe. I think AI will follow a similar path, particularly where service providers are meticulous in using the tech in an ethical, safe and lawful way.”

Impact on professional services jobs

Changing roles

The rapid advances in AI have led to speculation that it could eventually replace many jobs currently performed by humans. While that remains to be seen, AI is almost certain to have a huge impact on the role of professional advisers over the next 5-10 years.

According to research from Bain & Company, as much as 41% of labour time could be automated with the use of AI in the professional services sector – more than any other industry covered by the study.3

Adding value

Katelyn Brown says Deloitte’s AI goal is an “augmented approach” – using technology to release people from more mundane tasks and give them more opportunity to “do the smart stuff”. However, she adds: “How we manage this big culture change becomes really important – we need to clearly communicate our strategy.”

Aster Crawshaw at Addleshaw Goddard believes AI could help to make the professional services sector more attractive as a career prospect and that this is already happening: “AI is helping us get rid of less glamourous tasks and gives people more creative and advanced things to do much earlier in their careers.”

Rethinking training

The extent to which ‘work’ performed by AI tools still needs to be interpreted by someone with sufficient professional expertise, at least for now, could mean a complete rethink of professional training.

Julia Penny says: “If we’ve got rid of the tasks that used to help people acquire expertise over a number of years, we need to find new ways for trainee professionals to gain advanced skills more quickly so they can make sensible judgements about what AI is producing.”

Opportunities for new service offerings

AI and other digital technologies are bringing monumental changes across all industries as businesses continue to experiment at pace to find ways to improve the way they operate and bring efficiencies.

We must think about how to use AI sensibly otherwise we're going to be left behind if we don't try and integrate it.

Julia Penny

ICAEW Immediate Past President

The global AI consulting market alone is expected to be worth more than $45,000,000,000 by 2031 ref: 4

Changing skillsets

To seize the opportunities as advisers on AI, all professional services firms will need to keep abreast of the latest developments, solutions, strategies and related issues in order to act as trusted advisers to their clients.

To achieve this, there’s an increasing need for firms to recruit people with the requisite technological skillset. As Deloitte UK’s Katelyn Brown puts it, professional services firms need to “stay ahead of the game”.

Emerging regulations

The associated risks and emerging regulatory framework around AI create huge opportunities for the legal profession in particular, with many firms having already established specialist AI practices.

Mitigating the risks and maximising the opportunities of AI, says Katelyn, will require global collaboration to create an effective regulatory framework, but she’s encouraged by what she’s seen so far with global regulators beginning to team up with businesses to work towards creating a “global unified position”.

Contact us

Get in touch

To discuss your business requirements and how Barclays can support you, contact us today.

Your next steps

2024 Outlook

Business and Professional Services

James Morris, our Head of Business and Professional Services, touches on digital transformation, urges firms to embrace greater DE&I, and warns of cost pressures ahead.


Fraud Protection

Fraudsters are working as hard as you are. Our content can help you stay ahead of them.

Business and Professional Services
Industry expertise

Business and Professional Services

Bringing Business and Professional Services into the spotlight with Big Picture Banking. We’re with you, no matter ‘watt’.

The power of AI

The power of AI

How companies are using artificial intelligence and machine learning to drive growth.