A chief digital officer paints the picture of a future where finance leaders’ jobs are taken over by cognitive systems. Not so fast!
When financial leaders attend an industry conference, they’re probably hoping to hear about best practices, new ideas and maybe a little inspiration. Instead, those who flocked to a CFO Summit in New Zealand recently heard that their days might be numbered.
Online newspaper Stuff.nz reported on a keynote speech from Marie Johnson, chief digital officer for Australia’s Center for Managing Digital Business. Her message was blunt but clear: CFOs are in a race to keep up with systems that mimic human thought processes. These “cognitive” applications, she reasoned, could lead some organizations to wonder what they really need from their finance departments.
Insurers are still spending one month on average to close the quarter’s books and even longer to close last year’s results … a “manually intensive effort that fails to provide forward-looking business insight.”
“Put simply, many of the roles of the CFO would be automated: all their knowledge, all their processes, could be captured by cognitive systems,” Stuff.nz reported Johnson saying. “‘There is nothing in the role of the CFO that will not be captured by cognitive systems or that cannot be automated. My question to them (is), what part of their human intelligence, their human capability, goes beyond what a cognitive system could provide?’”
CFOs might have many answers to that question. There are always anomalies in data, for example, and unpredictable human behavior from customers, co-workers and other stakeholders that aren’t easily understood by machines. The best CFOs bring sound judgment, persuasive argument and empathy, among other things.
Even if cognitive systems are still a long way from replacing CFOs, there are plenty of opportunities for financial leaders to take advantage of advancements in IT to demonstrate how important their role remains. BusinessInsurance.com recently published the results of an EY report that, while looking specifically at the insurance sector, delved into problems that are common across most industries:
Insurers are still spending one month on average to close the quarter’s books and even longer to close last year’s results, the report said, a “manually intensive effort that fails to provide forward-looking business insight . . . A lengthy close also leads to different processes for management information and management decision-making,” the report said. “The numbers are often produced too late in the quarter to be used as the base for real management information in the month.”
Taken to a far-flung, dystopian extreme, automation could be seen as the CFO’s adversary. Yet, looking at what’s actually possible today and tomorrow, automation should be the CFO’s ally.
It doesn’t take a cognitive system to figure out which outlook finance leaders should take.