In the second interview of our Digital Transformation of Finance series, we spoke to Aspirico Financial Controller, Laura Boué about the changes taking place in the finance function, how much Artificial Intelligence might play a part and much more.
1. How is the role of the CFO evolving?
The role of the CFO is continuously evolving. With ongoing developments in technology, the role continues to move further from its ‘number crunching’ origins through digital transformation. CFOs are now not only better able to make use of data and emerging technologies, they are also heavily involved in the digital transformation process itself. Whilst such a remit may have been largely associated with the role of the CIO in the past, CFOs now also find themselves stepping up to play a very active role in the digital transformation of their organisations.
2. Finance has traditionally been viewed as a back-end function in the past. Do you see it having more of a strategic role in the organisation going forward, with more input into areas like product development?
Absolutely. This movement towards more fully supporting operational teams and initiatives such as product development is already well under way. Finance professionals are no longer hidden away as a back-office controlling function.
The role of the finance professional is evolving in response to business needs. With the help of advances in technology, the finance professional now has more scope and opportunity to provide real value-added services to business operations rather than being hindered by transactional processing activities which have been automated. They are now much more involved in decision making with operational colleagues, supporting the overall business strategy.
3. When it comes to digital transformation, do you feel that the finance function is slower to adapt compared to other business departments?
Finance functions of today are just as keen to adapt and harness developments as other departments! Some organisations/departments may have been slower than others to embrace / implement digital transformation but this is set to fundamentally change as the Covid-19 pandemic has made the importance of digital transformation clear and will prove to be a further impetus for change.
Financial leaders are left with no doubt as to the importance of ensuring their teams are equipped and capable of continuing to perform crucial finance functions in circumstances such as those we are experiencing currently.
4. What do you see as the typical barriers to digital transformation in the finance function?
Typical barriers to digital transformation in the finance function and indeed other functions are often the lack of skills and the know-how of where to start! Furthermore, there is often resistance to change which provides an additional challenge, as does cost/budget considerations. Such obstacles however, whilst challenging, can nonetheless be overcome.
5. There have been many changes in finance in recent years. What do you consider to have been the biggest catalyst for transformation in the Finance function?
The rapid pace of change in available technologies has been the biggest catalyst for change in finance. Finance leaders now strive to harness the benefits of automation, but also recognize the absolute importance of embracing new technologies in forging ahead and in delivering the organisations strategy.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also likely been a further catalyst for change for those organisations which were slow in implementing digital transformation as its importance is now so clear.
6. What impact, if any, do you think AI will have on the finance function?
AI has the potential to have a very material impact on the finance function. Many of the traditional routine and repetitive tasks can now be automated, AI can contribute materially to increasing efficiencies in what we do, provide business insights and perform predictive analyses much more quickly.
Furthermore, for finance professionals this means evolving roles, having more time to carry out rewarding and true value-add activities partnering with the business.
7. What technologies do you think will offer the biggest opportunity to the accounts payable/receivable functions?
AI and Machine Learning technologies will offer the biggest opportunity to these functions, transforming how they deal with routine and repetitive tasks, reducing the cost of and need for finance professionals to perform non-value-add activities.
8. As businesses are going global, how do you think technology could help to foster better relations between organisations and their international suppliers?
Technology can help to foster better relationships with international suppliers in several ways. For example, available technologies can facilitate the selection of suppliers which have the best fit for your organisation to begin with. Technologies permit efficient and timely communications with international suppliers regardless of location and time zones. Technologies available to us ensure we can process timely payments in line with agreements. Without technology these activities would all be much more difficult, cause delays and potentially lead to poor relationships and standing with suppliers and ultimately prevent optimising the full value of these relationships.
9. According to banking association UK Finance, a total of £207.8m was lost to bank transfer fraud alone in the UK in first half of 2020. What role will technology play in the battle against financial fraud?
Technology plays a very material part in the battle against financial fraud. However, we must remain mindful that as technology advances to provide breakthroughs in the fight against fraud, technology is simultaneously being used by fraudsters to develop more and more sophisticated, complex fraud schemes. Technology is therefore only part of the solution; we all need to remain vigilant and business leaders must also continue to invest in people and policies to further mitigate risks and prevent fraud.
View previous interviews in the CFOpinion series:
CFOpinion explores the thoughts of CFOs and finance leaders on the topic of digital transformation of finance. Each week a CFO will offer their thoughts on matters like security, the role of AI in finance and how the finance function compares to other departments when it comes to digital transformation.
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