Sydney, October 30 2017: Corporate accounting departments will experience fundamental changes as artificial intelligence (AI) software becomes more sophisticated and changes the type of work completed by humans, according to new research.
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 research, conducted by Censuswide on behalf of accounting automation software provider, BlackLine, incorporates the responses of 150 Australian chief financial officers, finance directors and accountants. It mirrors similar research conducted in the United States and Europe.
Asked to nominate the areas within their finance department that would be most affected by AI, 60% of respondents said the technology should enable them to complete accounts payable and receivable functions without the need for any human intervention. Almost half (49%) said AI will 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 respondents 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.
As more financial decisions are taken out of the hands of humans and entrusted to software, the question of liability becomes important. Interestingly, 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.”
AI adoption rates
While the capabilities of AI tools are still under development, their adoption by Australian companies is already well advanced. Of the respondents to the survey, 27% said AI already has a role in their finance department. 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. 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. 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.”
BlackLine is a provider of cloud-based solutions that transform Finance and Accounting (F&A) by automating, centralising and streamlining financial close operations, intercompany accounting processes and other key F&A processes for large and midsize organisations. Designed to complement virtually all ERP and other financial systems including SAP, Oracle and NetSuite, BlackLine increases operational efficiency, real-time visibility, control and compliance to ensure end-to-end financial close management and accounting automation from within a single, unified cloud platform.
Enabling customers to move beyond outdated processes and point solutions to a Continuous Accounting model, in which real-time automation, controls and period-end tasks are embedded within day-to-day activities, BlackLine helps companies modernise accounting operations with intelligent automation, ensuring more accurate and insightful financial statements and a more efficient financial close. Nearly 2,000 companies with users in over 130 countries around the world trust BlackLine to help ensure balance sheet integrity and confidence in their financial statements.
BlackLine is recognized by Gartner as a Leader in its 2017 Magic Quadrant for Cloud Financial Corporate Performance Management (FCPM) and as a pioneer in the cloud market for enhanced financial control and automation of FCPM.
Based in Los Angeles, BlackLine also has regional headquarters in London, Singapore and Sydney. For more information, please visit www.blackline.com