For CFOs who see past the hype, AI is already improving financial performance management


Artificial intelligence is having yet another moment thanks to the mainstream interest in tools like OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google’s Bard. Amazon, Adobe and even gaming company Roblox, among many others, quickly followed with their own “generative AI” announcements. The hype wave continued with PitchBook reporting that venture capitalists invested $1.7 billion in nearly 50 generative AI startups in the first quarter of 2023. Leading startup accelerator Y Combinator further invited 59 generative AI startups to its winter program, up from 11 last summer.

The hype shows where AI is heading. The question for CFOs and finance leaders today is, is it too late to catch up if you haven’t already started deploying AI?


The need for speed

Technology moves fast these days: smartwatches run hospital-level electrocardiograms (ECG’s), doorbell cameras recognize your pets and cars (almost) drive themselves. The speed of technological change rivals the pace of change in our current business environment, where constant societal, geopolitical and economic volatility make running a business more challenging than ever. And it’s particularly challenging for CFOs and their teams who are tasked with increasing responsibility and regulatory complexity (such as ESG).

The pathway to keep up with this pace of change is technology adoption, and increasingly, it’s AI-driven. Unfortunately, too many finance and accounting teams are stuck manually gathering data, pasting it into tables, and painstakingly searching for formula errors. That’s hundreds of hours of effort wasted each month. Those hundreds of hours could be spent analyzing data, evaluating scenarios or devising a plan for, say, if interest rates continue to rise or drop back down, or if the economy goes into a recession or comes roaring back.

Simply having more time for scenario planning could be a panacea for many businesses. Being prepared gives you agility so you can act instantly, because you’ve already devised a plan for a likely scenario. Manually, it takes teams hours or days to develop a single spreadsheet model. AI helps you do it in minutes, and then adds a more conservative scenario and a more aggressive scenario to bookend your analysis in a few moments more.

All of the uncertainties you’re facing — economic, geopolitical, labor and supply shortages, industry specific, weather and more — can be better faced if you’re prepared. Being prepared requires planning. Planning requires effort. Effort requires people and time, which you likely don’t have enough of. That’s where AI is already helping finance and accounting teams and can help you, too.



Where AI is helping finance teams

Your scenario planning needs to expand exponentially when you consider your specific business. Think of the ski resort industry, for example. Last year, California’s Sierra Nevada snowpack ended up at 38% of average. This year, some areas were close to 300% of average! With that much year-over-year variability, resort CFOs need to plan for a wide range of workforce, equipment, expenses, cash flow and other possibilities. A human team couldn’t be expected to do that manually, even working nights and weekends.

For all CFOs and their teams, we know there is an increasing need to do more with less, and to do it faster. That’s where AI comes into play. For example, AI can help teams by acting as an intelligent assistant, surfacing anomalies in massive datasets in minutes, not hours. Or AI capabilities might be used by budget managers to quickly build forecasts or budget scenarios backed by AI-driven financial forecasting. By starting their planning cycles with a trusted, accurate baseline, teams can more quickly shift their focus from data gathering to data analysis. Finance and accounting teams are currently burdened for hours and days seeking out that kind of information, but AI can see all the data and connect the dots in an instant.


What’s holding you, and AI, back?

Every new technology has its growing pains, but all signs point to AI being a game changer for CFOs and their teams. That said, adopting the latest cutting-edge technology shouldn’t be done in a quantum leap made in one day. Taking a measured, methodical approach to leveraging AI and doing the proper due diligence will ensure that everyone feels comfortable embracing this new technology. Assess where you can layer in AI to enhance your current processes and make workflows faster and more efficient. Technology has come a long way in incremental steps, and how you apply AI for your organization’s benefit can follow that same path.

The only remaining hurdle is…your adoption of technology. The longer CFOs delay an organization’s modernization, or think that a transformation has a distinct end, the further they are falling behind the competition.

LeackStat 2023