Best practices, Finance IT modernization, Partners

Artificial Intelligence, Finance, and the Future 

For those of us in Finance, we are literally living through a period of transformation with the scope and scale of the Industrial Revolution. I was introduced to the concept of Generative Artificial Intelligence, a few short months ago, by reading about how high school teachers couldn’t distinguish between essays written by their students and those written by AI. Simply stated, AI is going to not only fundamentally change the Finance function, but the entire world – that’s quite a bold statement.  

When we think about AI we are talking about Generative AI, Machine Learning and Virtual Assistants. AI is a different paradigm from traditional computing, and its impact will be vast. Here are a few takeaways from the recent Gartner CFO and Data & Analytics conferences I attended:  

  • By 2026, finance organizations with more than three years of AI skills investment will double their productivity over organizations with no AI skills.  
  • Through 2025, more than 40% of finance roles will be either new or significantly reshaped due to finance technology.  
  • Through 2025, over 30% of finance roles will be aligned “horizontally” out of traditional silos, enabling finance to support agile and composable business operations.  
  • By 2025, over 80% of headcount growth will be in new subfunctions rather than traditional Accounting and Finance, requiring, new roles and team structures.  

There is both great excitement and great anxiety about AI. Broadly speaking, business leaders think AI can do everything, and practitioners want AI to not interfere with their jobs. It’s very similar to the discussions we have had and the work we have been doing over the past several years with the concept of Automation. Automation isn’t to be feared but to be embraced. Automation really is a path to a more productive, useful, and enjoyable work environment. Automation equals liberation. AI is that same argument but on steroids. It’s important to understand that AI isn’t going to replace people. AI enables us to move up the Analytics Maturity Curve, as it frees people from performing routine, highly repeatable and mundane tasks so they can focus their efforts on what is not accomplished by AI.  

I love the following statement – ‘AI doesn’t replace people, people who use AI will replace people who don’t.’ It’s important to think about AI as a new type of co-worker, like the bots we have been discussing and implementing in our automation projects to leverage the strengths of each human and machine.  

Machines excel at calculating, predicting, and process execution. Humans excel at strategy and design, intuition, judgment and dealing with complex decisions. Humans can also take into consideration factors that can’t be quantified and fed into machine learning models such as ethical decision-making, common sense reasoning or adapting to unpredictable events in real time.  

It’s all about the 3 C’s. You must create capacity, to have the space to build capability, in order to execute collaboration.  

In FP&A, we work 26 hours a day, 8 days a week, for 60 weeks a year. Any technology that can enable us to spend more of our time answering the questions -why did something happen; what may happen in the future; and how do we develop strategies to take advantage of such opportunities and minimize risks? That analysis is of enormous value to our organizations.  

AI scales tactical tasks and operations. Without AI, employees are burdened with hours of monotonous tasks like reporting and reconciliation. The good news is that AI is designed to handle routine & and manual tasks with ease, and without errors. A company can reduce overhead costs and gain back thousands of working hours. 

AI lets people focus on high-value activities. Automating lower-cognitive and repetitive tasks reduces the risk of burnout and improves the employee experience. Finance and accounting professionals can instead spend more time on the high-value work they are meant to do—using their creativity to raise the financial IQ across the organization, strengthening relationships with the business, and making informed decisions that drive growth. 

AI provides real-time and prescriptive insights. Finance departments of all sizes are drowning in data and the deadlines to report are getting tighter. With so much economic change happening so quickly, business leaders also expect multiple scenarios, budgets, and forecasts weekly or daily. Companies can choose to either hire more people or rely on technology to get the job done. With cloud-based financial data, multiple scenarios can be generated much faster than with manual spreadsheets. Armed with solid intelligence, the CFO and leadership team can look ahead, modify operations, and reconfigure the business model in response to fluctuating market conditions. 

It’s important to realize that AI is an organizational competency, not just a technical one. Gartner states – 64% of CFOs anticipate finance will be autonomous within six years, and fewer than 30% will succeed.  

Change is hard. Humans, by definition, don’t like change. So don’t underestimate the work needed to be a successful change agent. As always, it is important to review and share your copy of “Who Moved My Cheese” by Spencer Johnson when trying to implement AI in your organization, keep in mind the 3 biggest barriers to success:  

  • Data accessibility and data volume and level of complexity  
  • Challenges of quantifying the business value 
  • Lack of skilled, technology fluent resources  

At the end of the day, the winner is not the one who has better technology, but the one who uses technology better.  

It’s important to keep in mind that AI is a journey apart from human intelligence.  

 To learn more about AI, finance and the future, check out our Workday solution and how we can supercharge your Workday Adaptive Planning.

About Brian Kalish- Brian is the Executive Leader – FP&A and Treasury at eCapital Advisors, headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is available as a public speaker addressing many of the most topical issues facing Treasury and FP&A professionals today. He has spoken all over the world to audiences both large and small. Brian is passionately committed to building and connecting the global FP&A community. He continues to host FP&A Roundtables and events in North America, Europe, Asia and South America.