At our inaugural New York based Financial Focus dinner this month, we discussed the question “what will be the first and last parts of the CFO role to be automated?”, with a group of finance executives from BORN Group, Cognizant, EY, H+K, Kantar, National Grid, OC&C, WSP, and Y&R.
In what was a wide-ranging discussion on not only the impact of analytics, automation and AI over the next 10 years, but also on the real role of the CFO today, several key themes emerged. The division between Financial Accounting and Management Accounting, particularly in the US, will reduce as automation and AI move finance roles from process focused to insight focused. This will naturally also lead the US rules-based system to become closer to the European judgement based system, as finance teams have more time to focus on interpretation.
The office of finance will become the guardian of the company’s business model and data assets with an enhanced focus on analytics, particularly to support forward looking projections and deeper insights; promoting better decisions, faster and improving business performance.
Today the best businesses have a strong partnership at the helm between the CEO and CFO, with many shared responsibilities including the development of strategy, leadership of people and the management of business performance, with the former being more market focused in external stakeholder engagement and the latter being more investor focused. While we struggled to identify any part of the current role of the CFO for automation (turkeys rarely vote for Thanksgiving), it was at least concluded that this focus on strategy, leadership and performance management would only increase.
On asking the group whether an accounting qualification would still be a pre-requisite for the top job in finance, the table was divided. These conclusions are very much backed up by our recent white paper, in which we polled millennials working in finance teams across the UK and the US. One third of this group harbour ambitions to become a CFO; more than half believe that analytics offers the single biggest transformational opportunity for the finance function and the majority believe that data science skills are becoming more important than an accounting qualification.
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