As a Silicon Valley finance and accounting consulting firm, we’re on double duty. We’ve got to keep up with all the exciting stuff our innovative, fast-moving clients are doing while we also keep rolling in the major technology advances that affect our profession. It’s a must: Finance teams need to continue to evolve as technologies change and affect where they work, how they work and how they’re valued by the rest of the company. They need to continually review their systems and evaluate when it may be time to bring in a new app or system that could transform how they operate, analyze and report what’s going on in the business.
Top of mind is getting access to reliable, timely financial information. Various technologies have greatly improved how data is collected and elevated the integrity of the data itself. This frees up CFOs and other senior leaders to focus on strategy-level thinking and decision making, streamlines business processes and pulls finance teams away from all the menial and manual tasks that bog down their workday. The finance function can pay less attention to gathering and consolidating data, and give more time to making sense of it—and acting on it.
CFOs and Controllers Should Focus on These 5 Emerging Tech Changes
FloQast, a close management software provider, recently weighed in on this issue in a report listing the top five technologies for CFOs, controllers and accounting professionals. “Even in accounting and finance, perhaps considered some of the more traditional of professions, there’s a swift surge of change that as industry pros we can scarcely choose to ignore,” they write.
The changes in store are positive: As these technologies mature and companies fold them into practice, the premise is finance teams will be more productive and efficient. You won’t have to suddenly be a programmer to excel in the future version of the finance function, but you will need to be able to think through problems and solutions while setting up new systems. We agree that advances in the following technologies deserve the attention of senior finance executives and their teams:
1. APIs (application programming interfaces)
It used to be that the disconnect between systems meant redundancies and keying in information. That was the norm. Now, APIs enable interactivity between systems, like ERPs and general ledgers. This leads to more opportunities for automated tasks, including those related to payroll and receivables, and less room for errors.
2. Robotic process automation (RPA)
No, robots aren’t taking over finance—but bots are starting to help out with a few mundane tasks. So far, FloQast says, you’re more likely to find RPA technology in use at Fortune 500 companies than smaller organizations. But the potential exists for all finance teams to benefit. The act of receiving invoices and then making payments, for example, could happen without human intervention. Journal entries could be minimized and so could the number of steps required to complete some transactions.
3. Artificial intelligence (AI)
As AI tools become more intuitive, the line between humans and machines are blurring. Relatively simple activities like setting up meetings can occur behind the scenes, without humans having to negotiate available times and places. Pulling out key information in contracts could happen without anyone needing to put on their reading glasses; comparing documents would no longer take up so much of the team’s time; and audit activities could be significantly streamlined.
The decentralized ledger system behind cryptocurrencies like bitcoin can bring efficiencies to finance teams for its ability to provide an impenetrable history of financial transactions and ownership of assets. It still needs a killer app to get going on a large scale, some experts say, and questions remain about how auditors can validate blockchain. In the meantime, a public register or database for making transactions and transferring assets without an intermediary opens up many possibilities. It could cut out middlemen (i.e., banks) and ease internal processes, such as managing inventory, recording financial activities and protecting contracts.
5. Remote work
It’s not a secret in finance and accounting that retaining and attracting top talent is a tough feat, and flexible work arrangements are one way to overcome it. Cloud and mobile computing have enabled more remote work, which has become a necessity for many teams—to get the job done after hours and put the right skill sets in the right place exactly when it’s needed. The effect on the finance function has its mix of pros and cons—working together as a team can take some creativity in communicating—but always having access to the best talent, no matter where they’re situated, is the ultimate goal.
These five tech trends have the ability to reshape the efficiency and workflow at companies of all sizes, and CFOs and controllers should be on top of them to evaluate the potential benefits. The latest advances in technology present opportunity for the finance function to elevate its value within the company, as it gets more strategic, efficient, productive and accurate over time. The finance teams that offer up timely insights about the business will likely make the right moves to surge ahead. This could be good news for everyone.