As advances in artificial intelligence take noteworthy leaps, CFOs across industries need to not only question how the changes will affect their finance organizations and businesses, but consider the range of opportunities that are opening up.
AI can look at infinitely more information than any human possibly can, in a shorter amount of time, and make insightful connections much faster than we can on our own. If you haven’t already done so, it’s time to anticipate what the advances in AI mean for your company and your role in it.
On the Brink of Transformative Changes
In recent years, automated processes have given CFOs a test run for this moment in time. Automation sped up how we process invoices and make payments, for example, and moved employees away from more transactional, and once paper-focused, tasks to more strategic responsibilities.
No longer having to manually enter customer data from one software program to another, the accounts receivable team could devote more time to improving its collections process and thinking of ways to incentivize customers to pay more quickly. The number of steps involved in onboarding and paying vendors shrunk with automated payment tools and QuickBooks moved small and midsize companies (and the accounting firms that serve them) away from spreadsheets toward more seamless transaction tracking, accounting, and payroll activities starting in the early 2000s.
Finance organizations have benefited from these advances in technology as every iteration has increased the amount of information we have access to and it continues to get richer and more meaningful. When we moved on from pen and paper ledgers to spreadsheets and then to desktop software to the cloud, every progressive step brought us closer to real-time actionable information on which to base strategic decisions.
While larger companies are exploring uses of AI today, such as predictive analytics, the technology has not yet been transformative for finance organizations at the level of the tools mentioned above. There’s vast potential, however. Truly understanding all of that information, analyzing it, and translating it into actionable insights is where AI could offer tremendous value.
Always a Need for Humans
What sometimes gets left out of the discussion around AI and the workplace is that humans will always be needed, to both train and oversee these systems, and to offer a point of view that only they can provide. The human perspective, particularly the mindset of the CFO, is always going to be beneficial. What’s likely to evolve is a symbiotic partnership between humans and technology. AI can process information faster and more competently than the human mind, yet our lived experiences are what companies need to determine the right answers that are in their best interests.
Indeed, humans will continue to be needed for validation of the answers AI offers us. This is evident amid all the viral attention surrounding generative AI tools like OpenAI’s ChatGPT. ChatGPT is certainly impressive for its quick responses, confident and humanlike manner, and extensive knowledge, but it’s missing the ability to provide true analysis.
The experimentation with ChatGPT thus far re-enforces a habit ingrained in most CFOs, to keep asking questions. Asking the right question and then understanding or being critical of the answer received will be an essential skill. As you ponder the potential for AI at your company, your work life, and your organization, consider these three steps you could take in the meantime.
1. Start experimenting if you haven’t already. Could generative AI help with drafting hard-to-write emails or summing up important meetings? Could it ease some of the processes involved in investor relations documents or financial presentations? Safeguards and guidance do not yet exist for sharing any material information with a bot, so that is not recommended, but you may be able to use generative AI to help outline a document or presentation.
For instance, my firm recently used ChatGPT to kickstart a brainstorming session. Participants were asked ahead of time to think of some ideas and ChatGPT was asked too. The answers were surprisingly similar, and it had some ideas we hadn’t considered but were missing a few important ones.
2. See the potential and don’t foster fear. AI holds the potential to introduce efficiencies, raise productivity levels, and develop new skills within your staff, while also deepening your understanding of what’s happening with the business and where it’s going.
AI could help you visualize things beyond what’s currently possible, inform your decision-making, give you more time to focus on strategic matters and supplement your knowledge and expertise. These positives can be parlayed to your employees, who may be worried about AI’s eventual effect on their jobs and may need help seeing how their roles could become more fulfilling.
3. Consider early adoption. Artificial intelligence is poised to affect how many of us work if it hasn’t already, and CFOs who pay attention to it now will position themselves and their company at a competitive advantage, while expanding their own skill sets.
In anticipation of significant tech advances, there’s usually hand-wringing over job losses, but the reality is more nuanced. Instead, anticipate more of a shift in job responsibilities and opportunities.
David Roberson is president of RoseRyan, a finance and accounting advisory firm and ZRG company.