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Will All Finance Professionals Be Robots in the Future?

Posted: 15th February 2018 by Finance Monthly
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Far from taking human jobs in future, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) technologies are going to free up finance professionals from spending too much time on monotonous tasks and allow them to focus on more strategic tasks of higher value to the business. Does this mean that finance roles will mostly be driven by robots? Below Tim Wakeford, VP of financials product strategy EMEA at Workday, discusses with Finance Monthly.

A recent EY study revealed that the majority (65%) of finance leaders said that having standardised and automated processes—with agility and quality built into those processes—was a significant priority when it came to investing in emerging AI and other technologies. And, following on from this, 67% of finance leaders said that improving the relationship between finance and the wider business strategy was also a key priority.

Again, this is an area where automation and AI technologies are helping free up time for finance to spend more time working with other teams within the business. This enables them to figure out where to go next as opposed to looking backwards and dealing with unproductive and time-consuming legacy finance systems.

Freeing up talent to focus on high-value tasks

Freeing people up from repetitive jobs to enable them to focus on high-value tasks is the opposite of the oft-cited “robots putting people out of work” narrative.

Indeed, automation is a huge opportunity to reduce the unnecessary burden and pressure that’s put on finance professionals, particularly around traditional tasks such as transaction processing, and audit and compliance.

The adoption of AI applications within finance enables forward-thinking executives to move info far more strategic business advisory roles. This means that they can focus less on number crunching and more on financial analytics and forecasting, strategic risk and resilience, and compliance and control. This shift to data-driven financial management delivers a much wider benefit across the business.

The Rise of the robots: AI in finance

Computer systems performing tasks that previously required human intelligence is the definition of AI, with experts viewing AI and automation as viable solutions to efficiently deal with compliance and risk challenges across different sectors.

With the rise of the ‘big data’ era comes a parallel growth in the need to analyse data for financial executives to be able to properly manage compliance and risk.

This is another reason why finance teams cannot ignore the opportunities that embracing AI technologies offers them. It allows them to process vast amounts of data faster and easier than large teams of humans can.

Individuals are then able to make better strategic decisions based on the information that AI is able to rapidly extract from what were previously time-consuming and repetitive and monotonous tasks such as transaction processing.

Jobs least likely to go to robots

Forward-thinking and highly-skilled financial executives are happily embracing AI, as they see the clear opportunity it presents to play a more valuable and strategic role within their organisation.

“The challenge for managers will be to identify where automation could transform their organisations, and then figure out where to unlock value, given the cost of replacing human labour with machines and the complexity of adapting business processes to a changed workplace.” This is how writers James Manyika, Michael Chui and Mehdi Miremadi so fittingly describe the process in their book These Are the Jobs Least Likely to Go to Robots.

“Most benefits may come not from reducing labour costs but from raising productivity through fewer errors, higher output, and improved quality, safety, and speed.”

AI and automation in finance has to be about reducing repetitive manual tasks and raising overall productivity through data-driven business strategy. The bottom line is this: any technology that can reduce manual input and the associated human errors for transaction processing and governance, risk, and control (GRC) will free up finance professionals for more strategic work.

Any organisation’s most important asset is its people. And finding out which emergent AI technologies and applications are the best for a business and its people is going to be key for the future of finance.

Giving skilled finance staff the autonomy and opportunity to move into far more strategic data interpretation roles and letting the machines take on the grunt work is a necessary shift in the finance function.

As well as automating a large part of the finance function, AI technology will also help skilled finance executives to make a far more sophisticated analysis of complex data sets and to provide genuinely valuable insight to drive the business forward.

There is very little doubt that the future of finance will be one that embraces technological innovations to improve effectiveness, increase efficiency, and enhance insight.

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