It’s been hard to miss the buzz around Artificial Intelligence. The rise of large language models like ChatGPT is impacting fields like education, healthcare, media, and perhaps most of all—it’s shaking up the world of business.
A recent Forbes Advisor survey found that over 50% of business owners are currently using or plan to use AI for things like customer service, content creation, inventory management, and more.
Generative AI Technology like ChatGPT may hold promise in supporting business plan writing, financial forecasting, and even advanced trend analysis and scenario planning. There are also concerns about the accuracy of these tools. And there’s the bigger concern of trusting new technology as a collaborator in the business planning process.
That’s why here at LivePlan, we’ve been talking with many of our business advisor partners to understand how AI business planning tools are affecting their consulting, accounting, and financial advisory work.
The responses we got covered just about every feeling possible.
“I look at AI as an additional tool in my toolkit as a business advisor to allow me to enrich my offerings.”
“I don’t like it. They [the business owner] need to understand their business, and AI doesn’t help with that.
To somewhere in the middle:
“With caution and some reluctance, I’ve been embracing AI technology to advise clients.”
These are just a few of the dozens of comments we’ve received—and we wanted to dig a bit deeper. So, we surveyed over 130 advisors over the last few weeks, asking for their thoughts on AI and its impact on their work with small business owners.
A brief explanation of generative AI
Advanced AI language models like OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google’s Bard simulate human-like conversations by processing text inputs, understanding the context, and generating relevant responses. While they aren’t perfect, recent advancements have significantly improved their ability to give accurate and contextual information—making them more effective in various personal and professional applications.
In our LivePlan AI survey, advisors almost unanimously said they were at least aware of the technology. Fewer than 5 percent of survey respondents said they didn’t know anything about them.
For those advisors, consultants, and accountants who were aware—we asked about their use of these tools and their feelings about how it might impact their jobs.
Here are some of the key insights and most surprising findings we found.
Familiarity and hesitancy toward AI in advisory
One interesting finding was that, while over 80% of respondents said they feel it is “definitely” or “likely” true that AI will play a bigger role in their jobs a year from now, fewer than half have actually used them in their work to date.
A consistent theme in the responses was a feeling that AI technology like ChatGPT was disruptive and could transform their work for the better. A minority of respondents expressed concerns that it could eventually replace their jobs. But the biggest problem for advisors so far has been figuring out its best uses in the business advisory process.
“Based on what I’m reading, it looks promising,” a consultant with 20 years of experience said of AI. “I just need to better understand how to effectively use it in my business.”
We also heard from multiple advisors that they had just recently used an AI tool in their work for the first time.
“I just had my first interaction with AI in our work when we used it to summarize some sections in our client’s business plan to help draft their Executive Summary,” one respondent said.
Sentiments around AI business planning
Based on the survey responses, several recurring themes emerged about advisors’ perceptions and use of AI in the workplace.
A vast majority of respondents were optimistic about its potential to assist them in aspects of their advisory work. Just 4 percent of respondents were fully opposed to using AI in their work, citing accuracy concerns, and the potential for business owners to rely on it too much instead of really thinking through their business plans.
Over 80% of respondents approved of its use in certain cases – although nearly all of those who responded positively listed caveats, like needing to take time to review the AI outputs.
“It has been helpful, I can bounce ideas off of it and brainstorm. It has also helped me in proposal writing,” said one consultant. “That being said, it does get things wrong sometimes.”
For advisors who have experimented with AI, the cases they’ve found it most useful for include marketing research and business plan creation. The ability of tools like ChatGPT to analyze large volumes of text can make it a groundbreaking tool for research. However, as recent news articles have shown, the technology sometimes provides incorrect or even made-up responses.
Yet many advisors who have started using generative AI are finding surprising ways to integrate it within their work.
“I love it,” an advisor responded. “It has helped shape the narrative for planning, discovering resources, researching and understanding different laws, and even determining business names!”
Efficiency and time-savings
No matter how advisors have used the technology, a common source of praise for AI was as a tool to increase efficiency, streamline processes, and save time by automating mundane work.
“It makes it so much quicker for me to organize my thoughts,” a respondent said. “I’ve looked up some prompt ideas just to give me more ideas of how I can use it to be more productive.”
Several advisors said they’ve used AI to help them write reports and emails.
“I think it is very useful for researching and a good source to help expedite work,” one advisor said.
Enhancement, not replacement
A common opinion was that AI should complement the human work advisors do, not replace it.
Many see AI as a tool that can add value to their advisory services by helping them provide information to their clients faster and more efficiently. However, they also stressed that it can’t replace human interaction.
“AI is not a professional, so I don’t expect it will be able to advise and make the same choices and decisions unless it has been completed before by a human,” said one SBA-affiliated consultant who advises over 50 small business clients. “While it may be able to technically align and confirm the basis of a professional’s decision, it will forever be an assisting tool.”
Accuracy and reliability concerns
While many respondents find AI helpful, they broadly expressed concern about the accuracy of the information produced.
“It makes some big mistakes and assumptions, and I am hesitant to use it because I am afraid I wont catch its errors,” an advisor said. None said they were willing to blindly trust the technology’s outputs. Instead, those who are using it regularly in their work say it works best as a starting point to get ideas rolling.
“When used for generating marketing ideas, business planning, etc., I find it gets me about 70-75% of what I’m looking for. I then need to complete the final portion,” said the director of a regional Small Business Development Center.
Education and understanding
Many of the respondents who aren’t currently using AI said they’re still trying to learn about its capabilities and how best to incorporate it into their work.
“It requires some knowledge to speed up the process of creating good information for clients,” an advisor said.
Generative AI tools rarely produce an adequate response to the user’s first prompt. Requests must be phrased in ways that give the AI enough context to understand what’s being asked of it. Users need to be ready to provide additional information and ask follow-up questions to focus its responses. Otherwise, responses will be too generic, and not detailed enough to be of use to any client in a real-world situation.
“I need to learn ways to incorporate AI into my business advising,” a financial advisor said.
One SBDC director commented, “I think it could be useful, but I’m not sure how.”
The human element of advisory is as important as ever
We hope these responses demonstrate that small business advisors of all kinds are contending with a full range of emotions about the role AI will have in the business consulting and advising world. There’s enthusiasm about its potential to increase efficiency. There are concerns about its accuracy and potential to replace jobs. And there’s a desire among advisors to get more training on how to use AI effectively.
Most of those surveyed were also fiercely optimistic about the importance of their work as advisors, and the human work they do to understand their client’s business and truly be there for them.
“AI can be helpful, but it simply cannot replace the human element so necessary for advising individual clients,” one consultant with a small handful of clients said. “For clients who access AI without an advisor, this could be dangerous because they may not provide the correct input to get the correct output.”
As another advisor put it: “Sure, clients can go into ChatGPT and type ‘I want to start a business. Write me a business plan.’ And something will come out – just like going to Google for the last 25 years. But they don’t know how to act on it, they don’t know what any of it means. They still need human help to understand what actually applies to their business.”
LivePlan and AI
At LivePlan, we haven’t just been monitoring these developments in AI. We’ve been working intentionally to incorporate AI features into our software that add value for businesses and business advisors.
We recently added our first AI feature, LivePlan Assistant. Click the link to read more about the feature, which uses generative AI to suggest writing improvements to business plans based on various prompts you can suggest.
Also, check out this blog post to learn more about why we’re adding AI features to LivePlan.
Our team is working hard behind the scenes to develop additional AI features that give users new ways to enhance their advisory services, while remaining true to our mission of giving you – the advisor – autonomy to use LivePlan in the way that’s best for your work. To get a better idea of LivePlan’s full range of features, visit LivePlan for Small Business Advisors & Mentors, and find the page that best matches your work.