In 2022, global anxiety feels unavoidable. From climate change to the continued impact of Covid-19, we are experiencing challenges affecting everyone across the globe. Business leaders are not exempt from this fear. They are expected to build strong and resilient businesses despite adversity, so the weight of responsibility is ever-present.
It will come as no shock then, that financial anxiety and stress have increased 213% among business leaders in the UK in the last two years, with nearly nine in ten people having reported feeling greater financial fear and sadness.
Nearly a third of business leaders have been worried about bankruptcy during the pandemic, which undoubtedly leads to anxiety and fear. To conquer this and remain resilient and well-positioned for growth, leaders must focus on what they can control. When it comes to money, greater financial control means keeping on top of digital transformation. Leaders are aware that precious time is being wasted on repetitive finance tasks, taking away these resources from the strategic problem-solving issues that need attention.
So, what avenues in technology should they invest in to help ease pressure?
Technology for intelligent decision making
Robotics, AI and machine learning are key to relieving leaders of the burden of operational anxiety. In fact, 81% of UK business leaders believe organisations that don’t rethink finance processes will face more risks, including falling behind competitors, increasing stress on workers and inaccurate reporting.
When being asked to make high-level financial decisions in response to crisis, business leaders cannot afford to waste time bogged down in operational detail or process-heavy decision-making. By taking control of where energy and precious human resource is invested, more intelligent decisions can be made, alleviating fear and strengthening resilience.
Digital transformation through the embedding of AI and machine learning is revolutionising financial processes and, in turn, the wider business. As our recent research into the impact of technology on our relationship with money suggests, over three-fifths of UK business leaders would trust a robot over themselves to execute finance-related tasks. Furthermore, 77% say they want help from a robot for key finance tasks; the top four being approvals, budgeting and forecasting, reporting and compliance and risk management.
We’re seeing a wave of investment into AI and robotic process automation, as more leaders accept that these new technologies represent the way forward. To reap the full benefits of these, financial leaders must ensure they are being embedded into core financials, not just securing them as one-off cash savings. Doing this properly puts such technology to work; allowing algorithms to learn from behaviours, to pre-empt and predict. This also enables finance leaders to manage risk more robustly and identify trends more readily.
AI to drive business transformation
As Clement Christensen, director at Gartner says, “AI will probably be the most important investment that you’ll make in finance for the next 10 years.”
Further analysts warn, “through 2024, businesses will be forced to accelerate digital business transformation plans by at least five years to survive in a post-Covid-19 world.”
However, to reap the real benefits of digital transformation, the use of AI must go beyond simple financial automation. As Deloitte recognises, “by 2025, the role and value of the finance organisation will be less about manually handling transactions and more about automating and streamlining processes. Finance will focus less on booking accounting entries and reconciling data, and more on delivering value and services that drive improvements across all business activity.”
In today’s digital workplace, the use of AI and robotics to automate day-to-day business processes such as invoicing or expenses should be regarded as low-level must-haves, not the pinnacle of modernity. Put succinctly, “AI should do more than just modernise. It should transform your business,” says Gartner’s Christensen.
Harnessing data and regaining control
From RPA (Robotic Process Automation) to intelligent chatbot applications, blockchain and IoT, new financial technologies deliver next-level visibility, compliance, reporting, and enhanced employee experiences.
These technologies prove truly transformational in how they aid higher-level analytics and decision-making. A company’s data is its most valuable resource – especially in today’s climate of uncertainty. In finance, understanding the constantly shifting risks and trends in the market is crucial to success. However, few finance teams make the best use of their data. They don’t have the time, resources, expertise, and tools to sort through mountains of data to extract useful information, especially when they are still focused on repetitive, operational tasks.
Embedding artificial intelligence solutions across financial data can unveil insights and opportunities otherwise lost in swathes of information that humans alone cannot harness. AI can be used to leverage data to improve financial performance, optimise cash flow, and increase agility across payables, receivables, procurement, and inventory. These programmes are able to discern subtle patterns from data sets, which no human could either spot or turn into insights with the same efficacy.
Finance roles will evolve
Using robots to assist our jobs has the potential to reshape the way we build organisations. This will enhance the role of finance professionals, allowing them to perform different roles that bring even more value to organisations. Traditionally, the finance function has been a pyramid, with the foundation being lots of staff doing transactional processing, often at the beginning of their career. The majority of this work will now be done by AI systems. The days of manual bookkeeping will soon come to an end.
But this doesn’t make the finance professional’s role redundant. Rather, it signals the beginning of a more rewarding career in finance, pushing teams to be more focused on bringing value to the organisation instead of the stress and tediousness of working through rows of data in Excel spreadsheets. It will require an understanding of tools and systems, how to use them, and how to get the most out of them. The adoption of AI systems will be about finance professionals developing new skills – be that data analytics, cybersecurity or manipulating ML algorithms. It will also create more focus on building soft skills that we need to be better business partners and to think more strategically.
Facing challenges head on
By automating processes, and deriving significant insights from robotic colleagues, the office of the CFO has more time to take a strategic role. This means more bandwidth to drive initiatives and exercise greater influence over the direction of the business.
As Gartner’s Christensen warns, time is of the essence to embrace AI for financial transformation. As businesses look to navigate an uncertain world post-Covid, its crucial energy is spent where it’s needed most and that leaders take control of operational burdens. By doing so, they can seek novel, innovative ways to answer the challenges of ongoing, evolving external crises.
Fear can make or break. But in crisis there is opportunity. There is only one solution for businesses to secure their financial future – to embrace next-generation technology. It is crucial they use AI to their advantage for transformation, not as a one-off, but as a strategic imperative in the long term. This will ensure they are not merely surviving, but are thriving throughout the crises presented in our modern world.