There are some good uses for the ChatGPT now, especially when it comes to making presentations or generating suggestions for content in grant proposals or other written materials. For this article, we asked ChatGPT how it could assist school finance professionals.
There’s no doubt that ChatGPT and other AI language models are making a splash. They have obvious uses and misuses in the classroom, but what about school business offices? Can you put ChatGPT to work for you? Or will its performance issues create more problems than it solves?
If adopted correctly, language models like ChatGPT have the potential to simplify many routine tasks, leaving humans to focus on more complex problems. At this point, however, it’s wise to proceed with caution. Importantly, with most finance-related matters, the information you will find using ChatGPT is likely to be dated and of little use if you are seeking current data. For example, in responding to a particular query, ChatGPT may have been trained to use data up to 2021, but not beyond that. The model can also be trained using inaccurate information. As finance professionals know, timeliness and accuracy of information is key.
Nevertheless, there are some good uses for the tool now, especially when it comes to making presentations or generating suggestions for content in grant proposals or other written materials.
For this article, I asked ChatGPT how it could assist school finance professionals.
Here are suggestions from ChatGPT with my response as a human and an auditor.
1. Financial Analysis and Forecasting
ChatGPT: You can use ChatGPT to analyze financial data, generate reports, and forecast budget trends. Simply provide the relevant financial data and ask specific questions, such as predicting future expenses or identifying cost-saving opportunities.
Because AI is based on learned historical information, it is hard to imagine that it would be a useful tool unless the forecast is primarily driven by past trends. Most financial analysis and forecasting at a school district is based on current data and legislation that is unlikely to have been incorporated into the ChatGPT response. While it may not be useful in assisting with forecasting, there may be some value in having ChatGPT identify cost saving opportunities that you have not previously considered.
2. Grant and Funding Research
ChatGPT: When seeking additional funding or grants for specific projects or initiatives, ChatGPT can help you research available opportunities, eligibility criteria, and application guidelines. It can also assist in writing grant proposals.
Remember, the data is dated and current funding opportunities will not be included in the ChatGPT response. But if a district is seeking additional funding, such as a corporate grant or other private funding, ChatGPT may provide the user with assistance on writing the grant proposal/application. In general, it is unlikely to be helpful with the main funding streams that finance offices work with on a regular basis, and we are unsure of the accuracy of the information ChatGPT provides.
3. Expense Tracking and Analysis
ChatGPT: You can utilize ChatGPT to automate and streamline expense tracking processes. It can help categorize expenses, identify irregularities or potential cost overruns, and suggest ways to reduce unnecessary expenses.
Most school districts already have and use a software or an internal process for tracking expenditures.
4. Financial Policy and Compliance
ChatGPT: Stay up-to-date with the latest financial regulations and compliance requirements using ChatGPT. You can ask about specific rules and guidelines to ensure your district's financial practices are in line with the legal framework.
ChatGPT may be useful as a starting point for researching and understanding accounting standards, compliance requirements and financial regulations. Here, too, use caution because the information is likely to be dated and may contain errors. Be sure to double check any information ChatGPT has provided for accuracy and to make sure it is current.
5. Financial Education and Training
ChatGPT: As a finance manager, you can use ChatGPT to create interactive tutorials or training materials for school staff regarding budget management, fiscal responsibility, and financial best practices.
This is another example of where ChatGPT can be a useful starting point but should not be considered a reliable source of current data and research. For example, when I asked ChatGPT “Can you please provide me with an example financial policy related to GASB Statement 96?” the title of the policy provided was “Accounting for Exchange and Exchange-Like Financial Instruments” which is not related to this GASB Statement. The content within the policy was very generic and inaccurate.
6. Data Visualization and Reporting
ChatGPT: ChatGPT can generate visual representations of financial data, making it easier to interpret and communicate key insights to stakeholders, school board members, or administrative staff.
This is probably one of the best uses for ChatGPT. Many of us in the numbers business find it challenging to present financial information clearly to a general audience. ChatGPT can help you make presentations appealing and assist with data visualization. As accountants, we are comfortable using Excel spreadsheets to present information, but there’s no substitute for graphics and visual cues when you are trying to get your message across.
Welcome or not, here it comes!
As you can see, we are already finding ways to use ChatGPT and other AI models to streamline and simplify certain tasks. But in its response to my query, ChatGPT itself offered this reminder: “While ChatGPT can be a valuable tool, it's important to cross-verify critical decisions with human expertise and official policies to ensure accuracy and compliance.”
In other words, it’s too soon to allow ChatGPT to take the lead without human supervision. But it is worth taking the time now to explore ways that these tools can help simplify and streamline your work in the future.