Updated: Sep 10, 2020
As world is accelerating, every year faster, to more digital and all-service economy, 2018 will be a pivotal year for the finance function.
You may have read similar comments in the past years, but you have not seen many changes in the finance functions. You still:
prepare the next year budget several months before the due date
have intensive negotiations and talks with stakeholders and budget owners before you reach an agreement.
Is this your budgeting process? If yes, I am afraid to inform you that you missed the train… However, 2018 is the perfect year to catch up.
You believe that only “digital companies” are concerned by new laws and directives and as you run a traditional business it does not apply to your company.
Once again, I am afraid to inform you that every company is a technology company now.
You are not convinced? Please answer the following questions:
Does your company have a website?
Is your company active in social media?
Are you using data analytics? Even an account on Oanda.com?
If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above it means that your company is a technology company, at least in the opinion of the OECD and your country tax department.
Hereafter we will present you what topics we foresee as game changers in 2018, with their risks and opportunities:
Technology savvy people will think that “the Cloud” is no longer a disruptive technology. It is a false statement for the finance function.
Planning, budgeting and forecasting (PBF) is widely out of scope when companies move to the cloud: only 10-15% of companies have moved PBF to cloud based solutions.
The reasons for such a low conversion to the Cloud are numerous but the most common are:
Use of multiple software vendors for PBF which makes any migration more complex.
Different models used across the company and people fearing unified models.
Lack of people training and trust to effectively update and collaborate.
Whilst companies which have moved PBF to the cloud report the following benefits:
Faster and more accurate forecasts.
Improved stakeholder’s collaboration.
Connect to more sources of data.
Improved business processes, improved traceability.
Proof of concept to support decision making.
What are the risks if your company does not migrate the PBF (and other functions) to cloud based solutions:
Use of multiple vendors increase costs and IT dependencies.
Slow and cumbersome reporting and forecasting increase unreliability of financial data, resulting in higher probability of restatements.
The finance function not viewed as an effective business partner. But instead perceived as a cost centre.
In a very competitive market, not being able to reforecast quickly and efficiently is an elevated risk for any business.
To summarize, the first step in modernizing the finance function is to move the operations to the cloud but make sure you implement the adequate processes, rather than copy/paste your current processes.
Blockchain is the foundation of crypto-currencies such as the Bitcoin. The Wikipedia definition of blockchain: “it is a continuously growing list of records, called blocks, which are linked and secured using cryptography. Each block typically contains a hash pointer as a link to a previous block, a timestamp and transaction data. By design, blockchains are inherently resistant to modification of the data.”
We often read terms such as “the supply chain blockchain” or the “finance blockchain”. In fact, Supply Chain and Finance are blocks linked to the same list of records.
To summarize, blockchain is your product/service/transaction DNA, or genetic code.
Why should CFOs consider adopting blockchain technologies?
Financial institutions such as banks and VCs are quickly adapting to blockchain and it shall become the standard for communications.
Tax authorities are also quickly adapting to the blockchain technology and it might soon be a compulsory standard.
Decrease risks of hacking.
In addition to the business and finance partners pressure, the benefits of adopting the blockchain technology are:
Increased speed of exchange between departments and significant reduction of backlog.
Data integrity as the data log cannot be modified. Risk of fraud and error is significantly reduced.
Data transparency and improved security as the access to the data is infinitely customizable; by record, by block, etc.
Automation and standardisation of the EDI systems which shall be partially implemented across EU in 2019.
Of course, adopting such an early technology has it risks, and pursuing a full integration of blockchain could be very expensive to early adopters:
Uncertainty around the security and accessibility of the data.
Costs and risks. Investments in blockchain could be a significant budget with no guaranty it will be successful.
To summarize, auditors perceive the blockchain ledgers to have the potential to solve the problems associated with standardisation, reliability and compliance.
The fact that blockchain has received the confidence of all major financial institutions (banks, insurances, VCs) may force corporations in the need of funding to adopt it.
In our opinion, it is difficult to predict exactly how huge the impact of the blockchain will be on the finance function.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
AI and blockchain are inseparable. However, unlike blockchain, AI is perceived as a threat to the finance function: Natural language processing (NLP) and Robotic process automation (RPA) are concepts which are already being tested by Big4 companies.
Big4 are already playing the game of men versus machines. RPA technology is being compared and benchmarked versus human brains. They use comparative methods to fine tune machines conclusions using human thinking.
In the meantime, NLP is used to fill in hundreds of thousands of standard documents such as leasing contracts. Contracts are reviewed by real persons using the same sample criteria as any financial audit.
Big4 companies can afford the luxury to test and roll out these technologies while having clients paying them for what is a massive UAT (user acceptance testing).
In the short term (1-2 years), we do not recommend to CFOs to go on the direction of AI. We would rather recommend investing in cloud and blockchain solutions.
ROI to implement AI technologies could be fast, but only for companies treating huge amount of transactions in millions.
In the mid-term (3-5 years) we believe that AI technologies will play a significant role in fraud detection: if audits used to be based on samples, AI technologies will be able to review entire blocks of data downstream and upstream. As an example, AI technologies will recognize a fraudulent payment to a party under Anti-bribery and/or FCPA regulations.
In addition, travel expenses will no more be a hassle for the accounting teams: NLP technologies will be able to code and process any expense claim, in line with the company travel policy with milliseconds!
Our conclusion about AI is that it will simplify the world of finance and translate complex transactions into comprehensive steps. We don’t see AI as a threat to the finance function but as a perfect tool to support decision making by providing unquestionable proof of concept.
Stay tuned for the next article.
About the author: Rui M. Teixeira is a finance professional with over 20 years’ experience including 10 as independent management Consultant. The objectives of his articles are to share his professional experiences and feelings about the professional world.
Unlike Big4, large consultancy firms and the EU Commission, our company does not have dedicated resources to research and investigate about the current trends which impact the world of business. You will understand that we do not openly share our sources. However, if there is a piece of information for which you would like to see the source/reference or to further discuss it, please do not hesitate to contact us specifying what paragraph you are looking for.