Technology is developing at speeds that were previously unheard of, and as a result artificial intelligence (AI) is changing the face of business.
In a recent Raconteur article by Jon Card, Goodbye CFO? Bots and blockchain are taking over soon Card explores how bots are changing the role of Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and their corresponding departments.
Tim Briant (Airswift), Sankar Narayan (Xero), and Todd Ford (Coupa) shared what has changed within their companies, and what changes they expect to see in the future. From complete automation lacking a human touch, to changing the way companies analyze information, AI looks to have a significant impact on how companies will operate in the future.
Tim Briant is not at all conservative in how he anticipates AI impacting business. Card wrote that Briant believes that AI is going to replace people completely. Briant cites his previous employment (as CFO at Adecco) as an example for how businesses will automate in the future. At Adecco many processes are already automated. At Airswift they are planning on implementing their own changes, by investing in bots. In a similar way to which humans learn, bots can do so as well.
This ability to learn is what puts future accounting jobs at risk for humans. With the cost of technology dropping, it may one day become cheaper to have bots (who are able to learn from their mistakes) that are able to do the work (24 hours a day) than it would be to have humans doing the same work 8 hours a day. According to Card, Briant believes that between AI technology and blockchain (a system that stores data in a public and accessible way – making it impossible for hackers to hack) there will not be a need for companies to retain a Chief Financial Officer in the future.
Card found an alternate point of view while interviewing Sankar Narayan of Xero. Narayan does not necessarily have the same doom and gloom type attitude that Briant has. Instead, Narayan seems exceptionally optimistic by what technology is able to offer, especially in terms of what it is doing for his current business.
Narayan has found that the role of CFO is taking on a more analytical position than it has in the past, but that is because of the massive amounts of data that they have at their fingertips. Boasting that he essentially knows exactly how much growth his company has experienced over any given time, Narayan seems to embrace what technology offers his company. However, Narayan wasn’t always this easy going in terms of AI. He’s been a CFO for over 17 years, which means he has had to see his position grown and change in order to stay relevant. Narayan believes that using artificial intelligence in business will be about more than efficiency in the future, and will instead help determine what decisions will make the company more profitable.
Todd Ford, of Coupa, is another CFO doomsayer. According to Card, Ford recognizes that with the advances in AI, the role of CFO may become obsolete. Though not necessarily as unforgiving as Briant, Ford recognizes that things have already changed significantly in the field. Humans are now competing with bots. Ford’s solution is to become more than just an accountant, he is also skilled in sales and marketing. This enables him to combine his two knowledge bases, and makes him more valuable. Card states that Mr. Ford sees the CFO position as one that consists of both chief accounting officer, as well as chief operations officer. It is Ford’s assumption that the CFO position will disappear in favor of a chief accounting officer and a chief operations officer, as those two skillsets don’t always coincide.
These three men are at the top of their field, and area already starting to see changes in terms of how AI has changed their business. With this constantly evolving landscape, it offers a plethora of opportunity, especially to businesses. However, accountants in the field will need to find a way to ensure that they stay relevant despite changes in the future. For some, this raises more questions than it does provide answers. Even so, bots offer many benefits that human counterparts cannot: longer work hours, reduced risk of human error, and the ability to provide analysis almost instantaneously.
These reasons alone make AI development worth a risk.