Monday, 30 October 2017 10:48

AI and automation on the increase in accounting, finance: survey

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AI and automation on the increase in accounting, finance: survey Image courtesy of Cooldesign at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Financial professionals expect artificial intelligence will play a significant role in their profession over coming years as the software becomes more sophisticated and changes the type of work completed by humans, according to a new survey of corporate accountants.

According to the survey, conducted by Censuswide and commissioned by accounting automation software provider, BlackLine, almost four in five (78%) financial professionals believe the technology will play a "significant" role in their department while almost a third (29%) expect that role to be "very significant".

The survey of 150 Australian chief financial officers areas found that finance department would be most affected by AI, with 60% of respondents saying the technology should enable them to complete accounts payable and receivable functions without the need for any human intervention.

And almost half (49%) said AI would allow the automation of reconciliations.

“These responses demonstrate that financial professionals understand the growing power of AI tools and the implications this has for the functioning of the finance department,” says Ann Furlong, APAC director, BlackLine.

“Job roles and workflow processes will radically change during coming years as usage of the technology becomes more widespread. This will allow accountants to shift from routine tasks into roles that add a higher level of value to their companies.”

According to the survey, a third (33%) of financial professionals believe AI tools will undertake strategic financial decisions while just over a quarter (27%) said the tools will play the role of completing financial close.

Furlong says that as more financial decisions are taken out of the hands of humans and entrusted to software, the question of liability becomes important, and when asked to nominate who should be liable if an AI tool makes a decision that results in regulatory non-compliance, a fine or a fall in share price, just 13% said it should be the developer of the software.

Topping the list of liable parties was the accounting department (19%), the chief financial officer or finance director (18%), the chief executive (17%) and the IT department (15%).

“Clearly there are differing opinions on where ultimate responsibility should lie when it comes to the decisions made by AI tools,” says Furlong. “This is something that will need to be carefully considered at the board level before key finance decisions are left in the hands of software.”

According to Blackline, while the capabilities of AI tools are still under development, their adoption by Australian companies is already well advanced, and of the respondents to the survey, Twenty-seven percent said AI already has a role in their finance department, while almost one in five (19%) said the tools have a role within their organisation but not yet in the finance department.

More than a third (35%) of survey respondents said AI doesn’t yet play a role in their organisations, however they are currently investigating its potential and just 15% indicated they have no plans to deploy the technology this year.

“AI technology will play an increasing role in most finance departments during the next few years,” says Furlong. “For this reason, it’s important that finance professionals take the time now to understand the implications this will have for their organisation.”

Furlong says tools must be carefully evaluated prior to deployment and any changes they will make to workflows clearly communicated, and staff need to understand how AI will reshape their roles and the benefits it will bring.

“Rather than being something to fear, AI has the potential to deliver significant benefits to the finance department. Supported by intelligent tools, staff will be able to shift their attention from low-level processing tasks to higher level, strategic activities. The finance department of the future will be a very different place.”

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired in 2020. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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