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  • Artificial Intelligence
  • David Mbatha
  • FEB 07, 2019

The Inevitable Automation of Finance

The book ‘A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future’ by Daniel H Pink, gives a compelling argument for why the more creative and expressive forms of work will be the most rewarded in future. A bit of biology: the left side of the brain is analytical and logical; it is responsible for aspects such as language, logic and critical thinking. The right side of the brain is responsible for creative and expressive tasks such as emotional intelligence, music, intuition and imagination.  The author argues that tasks that require left side thinking in the work place can either be replaced by a machine or outsourced to the cheapest resource globally as these tasks are typically deterministic or repetitive and the end result is usually the same regardless of who/what  does it. Based on this simple premise, we can infer that the workplace will be significantly disrupted as technology becomes more precise in replacing routine non-judgemental human activity.

Digital disruption is now the new normal and technology disruptors are some of the largest drivers of change in business today. KPMGs Global CEO Outlook 2018 Survey – 95% of CEOs see technological disruption as more of an opportunity than a threat. 54% say that rather than waiting to be disrupted by competitors, their organization is actively disrupting the sector in which they operate. KPMG UK estimates that a well-architected use of disruptors will enable extreme automation, resulting in an operating model (Finance, HR, IT and core business processes) that achieves close to 70% reduction in labor while delivering on business value and global risk management. This will result in a huge shift from the norm which has been to off-shore operating model functions to jurisdictions where labour is cheaper.

As well as driving digital transformation and protecting customer data, CEOs are reconfiguring their workforces for a future where smart machines and talented people work together. Humans will continue to do jobs in high-touch segments where people pull on people’s heartstrings e.g. selling, marketing, arts, social enterprises

Repeatable finance process such as routine transactions recording and reconciliations are ripe for automation. Finance functions must therefore embrace the disruptors of today to transform their own operating models and unlock an environment of extreme automation. Technologies are “extremely automating” finance operations as we know them and slowly but surely developing intelligent finance functions that are viewed as strategic advisors to the business.

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There are at least seven technologies that will deliver extreme finance automation:

  1. Robotic process automation: will rapidly scale and dramatically reduce finance work-effort through elimination of repetitive, rules-based processes that require human intervention today
  2. Machine learning: will boost foundational automation by deploying adaptive technologies to make fact-based decisions that will eradicate manual segments of the finance process sequence
  3. Digital analytics and delivery: On-demand, customized insight delivery will enable finance to transcend the role of historical scorekeeper and become a strategic interpreter
  4. Data management: Progressive data management and mining of untapped data sources (such as social media, government statistics etc) will create a springboard for elevated discovery agility and prescriptive insights
  5. Natural language processing: Unconstrained information accessibility from unconventional and real time sources (such as news feeds) will allow finance to positively influence business outcomes in real-time
  6. Cloud based and self service solutions: finance solutions will be cloud based and therefore will constantly be improving in use-ability, flexibility and accuracy. The ease of their use will mean users can easily extract the information they require for decision making
  7. Blockchain: Augmented information authenticity will enhance security, shorten transaction cycle times, and eliminate the need for reconciliations, for good

While this may all sound futuristic and unreal, almost a fad, the reality is that some companies in the East African region have started embracing extreme finance automation, primarily due to the need for real time finance data to enable quicker or more precise decision making.

This begs the question, what is the future for current and future finance professionals? The role of finance professionals will have to shift from providing historical score keeping to providing dynamic insights to the business.

According to KPMGs Global CEO Outlook 2018 Survey, a majority (62%) of CEOs believe that emerging technologies will create more jobs, while making roles more interesting and driving significant efficiency improvements. New technologies are going to allow people to do more with less. They will be able to focus on the important parts of the business which are serving the customer, analysing data and making good decisions. Basically, more right side thinking.

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