The Ethics of AI in Professional Services


Amongst the ESRC IAA projects at The University of Birmingham was a novel, interdisciplinary project exploring the regulatory and ethical barriers that may impede the successful adoption of AI in UK professional services, funded by an additional award from the ESRC IAA ‘Business Boost’ to support engagement with business. The research, which brought together academics from Law and Business as well as a number of external partners, helped to shed new light on the challenges faced by industry, and ultimately led to a multimillion pound ISCF/Innovate UK project.

About the Business Boost-funded research

Professional services are major contributors to the UK economy and form a key foundation of the UK’s international competitive advantage; closer to home, they are highlighted in the West Midlands’ Local Industrial Strategy as key to inward investment, economic growth and increasing productivity. 

Although AI’s transformative impact for professional services was predicted over two decades ago, only recently has this appeared in practice. Algorithms applied to big data are governed by professional and regulatory frameworks that remain relatively stable, but many predict we are close to a critical tipping point given the enhanced global mobility of expertise created by AI. It is imperative that new regulations and ethical guidelines provide adequate consumer protection, while at the same time continuing to enable firms to innovate. 

Informed by the AI and Data Economy strands of the UK government’s Industrial Strategy, researchers at the University of Birmingham used Business Boost funding to seek to enhance opportunities for successful uptake of AI by UK businesses, non-governmental organisations (such as advice agencies) and beyond, while protecting the public interest.

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Collaborative working

Senior and early-career researchers in Birmingham Law School’s Centre for Professional Legal Education and Research, and Birmingham Business School’s Lloyds Banking Group Centre for Responsible Business collaborated with a network of industry leaders, regulatory professionals and government representatives. 

Through a series of roundtables, empirical insights were used to develop new strategies to overcome the barriers and risks presented by AI, and enhance the opportunities for its responsible use in the financial, insurance, legal, and accountancy sectors.


The researchers identified the implications of possible future scenarios in keystone regulatory system developments, which is underpinning new research aimed at developing policy as well as regulatory and industry recommendations on how to overcome critical risks and obstacles, and seize the opportunities associated with AI.
As a result of the research, the University of Birmingham collaborated with EngineB, an innovative prof-tech scale-up partnered with KPMG, Microsoft and the wider industry to submit a successful multimillion pound ISCF bid to Innovate UK. The project will develop new common data models and knowledge graphs for audit, tax and legal services that will drive innovation and competition in the digital professional service marketplace through the creation of a new data access platform. 

Professor Lisa Webley, who co-led the Business Boost project, is the academic lead on the project, which also includes collaboration with the University of Sheffield and Imperial College. The project aims to transform the professional services sector and place the UK at the centre of the global prof-tech revolution.

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