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Business Leaders Trust Robots More Than Finance Teams to Manage Their Organization’s Money

by Peter Russo

With the majority of business leaders voicing their willingness to embrace AI in the workplace, what does this mean for the future of finance teams?

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Managing corporate finances has always been a high stakes job. At its best, a good financial decision can lead to a successful acquisition, partnership or a new, profitable revenue channel. At the worst, it’s millions of dollars lost, defensive tactics to restore stability, or in some cases, possible regulatory repercussions.

In our professional lives, managing money isn’t simply about dollars and cents. It’s about opportunity, power, and job security. Without it, our career progression is limited. And that’s what makes it such an emotional task.

If business leaders were feeling the pressure before COVID-19, the pandemic only exacerbated the stress and anxiety associated with managing money. In fact, according to a new study from Oracle, financial stress and anxiety among business leaders around the globe nearly tripled (186 percent increase) over the past year.

The immense pressure of managing money under normal circumstances, combined with challenges of 2020, are some of the reasons why two-thirds of people (67 percent) say they trust a robot over a human to manage finances. And as that willingness to embrace robots continues, the future of finance will inevitably change with it.

Welcoming artificial intelligence with open arms

The heightened emotions and financial uncertainty of the pandemic pushed business leaders around the globe to question their financial abilities and wonder if they could trust themselves to make rational, responsible decisions.

To navigate this new reality, business leaders turned to an unlikely helper: Robots. In fact, the research found that 73 percent of business leaders would trust a robot more than themselves to manage money. And what’s more – three-fourths (77 percent) say they’d trust a robot over their own organization’s finance department.

Additionally, 9 out of 10 business leaders believe that robots will replace corporate finance professionals in the future – at least in part – and 56 percent think this shift will happen within the next five years.

With the majority of business leaders voicing their willingness to embrace AI in the workplace, what does this mean for the future of finance teams? What do employees now expect from corporate finance departments? And what can finance professionals focus on to continue driving value within their organizations long into the future?

The role of finance teams has forever changed – and that’s a good thing

With 85 percent of business leaders saying they want help from robots for finance-related tasks at work, it’s clear that AI is here to stay. But that doesn’t mean the finance function is becoming entirely automated or that humans are going away. Quite the opposite, actually – their jobs are about to get much better.

Business leaders do indeed want robot assistance with the manual, tedious, and often boring, tasks that are most prone to human error, such as approvals (43%), budgeting and forecasting (39%), reporting (38%), and compliance and risk management (38%). However, most still prefer humans to do the softer skill tasks and make the final decisions, such as communicating with customers (40%) and negotiating discounts (37%). While robots are ideal for automating many administrative finance tasks, like invoice matching for example, activities that are based on personal relationships need the human touch to be successful.

You often hear finance professionals say they didn’t choose a career in finance to spend their days manually reconciling accounts in Excel. However, that’s the reality for many finance teams. By allowing AI to assume the rote, manual parts of the jobs, the next generation of finance leaders can up-level their careers to focus on strategic tasks that make a meaningful impact within their organization.

Take Lyft, a rideshare company that processes billions of transactions a year for example. By embracing AI to automate financial processes, the company is working toward reducing the time it takes to close the books from 12 days to just three. With more than a week of time regained, Lyft’s finance team can spend less time looking backwards, and more time driving the organization forward and adding value. Noteworthy during the pandemic was how quickly the company adapted to change by partnering with Grubhub to support food delivery services. Being able to changes on a dime is a result of running a more agile business.

It’s time to embrace AI in corporate finance

There is much to gain by utilizing AI in corporate finance. But there’s even more to lose by not. In fact, 87 percent of business leaders say that organizations that don’t rethink their financial processes will face risks, including falling behind competitors (44 percent), more stressed workers (36 percent), inaccurate reporting (36 percent), and reduced employee productivity (35 percent).

Additionally, 52 percent of Generation Z and 60 percent of Millennial professionals say they want to work for a company using robots in finance. That’s why more than half of companies globally (51 percent) are already using AI in their financial processes. In today’s war for tech-savvy talent, the risk of not embracing innovation is far too great.

Robots should be seen as an opportunity to improve, not harm, the lives of finance professionals. By strengthening soft, innately human skills, while allowing AI to handle the tasks that are prone to human error, humans can achieve unparalleled efficiency, focus on strategic work that drives meaningful impact, and increase the velocity of decision-making.

Peter Russo is the head of ERP product marketing at Oracle.