Imagine a futuristic world in which the power of artificial intelligence is ubiquitous and humanized. Wondering about the size of your tax refund? No need to log onto a physical device—just ask your question aloud and an unseen virtual assistant immediately tells you the answer. When the news is good, the message is congratulatory: “Way to go! Your refund this year will be more than last year.” And for not-so-good news, the assistant’s voice turns empathetic: “Sorry to tell you this, but you’re not getting a refund this year.”
To Intuit Chief Innovation Officer Bharath Kadaba, this vision is years, not decades, away. Recently, he sat down with Ryan Lester, the host of AI: In Real Life, for a wide-ranging interview about how the impact that AI and other emerging technologies are having today and will have in the future on Intuit’s customers. You can find the podcast here.
A team of AI innovators
When Bharath Kadaba talks about his work on artificial intelligence at Intuit, his passion is palpable. “This is a dream job for me,” he says. “It’s just so much fun to be working on cutting edge stuff, seeing the impact on our customers today, and at the same time, thinking about what we can do next.” Kadaba has assembled a top-notch team of technologists, the Intuit Technology Futures group, to accelerate the incorporation of AI into the company’s flagship products TurboTax, QuickBooks, and Mint.
Early to the AI party
“We have an incredible number of customers for whom we are managing their financial lives—in fact, QuickBooks just passed 4 million users globally,” Kadaba says. “As a result, we know a lot about their financial numbers, which lends itself to artificial intelligence, specifically, machine learning.” Armed with this insight, Intuit started investing in AI in 2006, years before most of the software industry jumped on the AI train. Those investments are paying off, driving enhancements to Intuit products that solve real-world problems.
Kadaba points to QuickBooks Assistant as a good example. “The concept of a virtual assistant came to us when Apple introduced Siri in 2011,” he says. The overarching goal was to break down the human-machine barrier, facilitate access to information, and simplify the user experience. About two years ago, Intuit took a major step in that direction by launching QuickBooks Assistant in the self-employed version of QuickBooks.
Today, busy freelancers and small-business owners save time and get answers quickly by asking natural-language questions such as “How much money did I make last month?” or “What was the amount of my most recent invoice to Acme?” QuickBooks Assistant can also field support questions such as “How do I send an invoice?”—it’s a one-stop knowledge source.
“Your taxes are done”
Keeping a finger on the pulse of the customer is an essential part of Intuit’s—and Kadaba’s—DNA. When speaking to groups about Turbo Tax, he starts with a question: “How many of you actually like doing your taxes?” After the predictable groans—and a few contrarians eagerly raising their hands—Kadaba tells the audience about the company’s vision for streamlining the tax preparation process through what he calls, “Taxes Are Done.”
He describes a typical scenario. Sitting at your desk one morning, an alert pops up on your phone: “It’s tax time.” Instead of fumbling around for hours and days with a disorganized mess of paper receipts and incomprehensible tax forms, you simply click the screen button labeled Do My Taxes. A few minutes, TurboTax sends a follow–up message: “I’m almost finished with your taxes. Here are the five things I still need.” Within seconds of providing the missing pieces, TurboTax tells you the good news: “Your taxes are done.”
Kadaba and his team may be world-class technologists, but their motivation springs from the human side of the equation. To him, the goal is gaining the user’s trust in Intuit products.
Kadaba poses the fundamental question he and his team are striving to answer: “At the end of the day, how do we build confidence in our customer when it comes to their personal finances—that’s an emotional experience, as we all know.”