Mind the Stasis Gap: Finance Pros Struggling with New Technology

Nov 16, 2017

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By: Jim Kaitz, President and Chief Executive Officer, AFP

A recently released AFP survey reveals a significant gap between how important finance professionals rate emerging technology, and what they’re prepared to do to embrace emerging technology. The survey even suggests this gap—let’s call it “the stasis gap”—is growing, and that’s a worrisome sign.

Asked, “Are Organizations Prepared to Deal with the Impact of New Technologies within the Treasury & Finance Function,” only 11 percent answered either “very prepared” or “fully prepared.” A whopping 53 percent of respondents said their organizations were “somewhat prepared,” another 36 percent said “minimally or not prepared”. 

It’s an alarming finding, given the stakes. Each day brings us new revelations of digital disruption in our world. In November, the New York Times brought us word of Google’s AutoML, a machine learning project “that learns to build other machine-learning algorithms.” Around the same time, Deloitte released a study claiming some 26,000 projects relied on blockchain technology in 2016 alone. DataBridge Market Research estimates that robotic process automation (RPA)—a $698.5 billion market in 2016—will account for nearly 29 percent of compound annual growth rate over the next seven years. In other words, the future isn’t tomorrow: It’s here right now. 

It’s not as though treasury and finance professionals don’t recognize the potentials of new technologies. Fifty-one percent of respondents said artificial intelligence (AI) will have a moderate or significant impact in their business. Another 50 percent gave similarly high ratings to blockchain and “the internet of things,” respectively, and even 37 percent of professionals thought RPA would have at least a moderate impact on their future. 

At the same time, adoption rates for these technologies seem woefully low. Six percent of respondents’ organizations had already implemented some form of RPA, 3 percent the internet of things, 2 percent AI and 1 percent blockchain. 

Perhaps more unsettlingly, it appears as if finance and treasury professionals are at risk of falling behind in their understanding and adoption of new technologies compared to their peers in other areas of the organization (e.g. marketing, sales, customer service and IT).

I’ve written somewhat passionately about getting ahead of the tech curve. Back in August, I worried aloud that “while this is an unprecedented time to stay out ahead of the ever-evolving tech curve, research indicates that we are notoriously slow to adopt technology or even recognize how technology could disrupt work. And we’re even more behind the curve on seizing the full potential technology offers.” 

Our survey results probably won’t calm anyone’s nerves, starting with my own. 

The good news is it’s not too late. Here at AFP, we’ve partnered with Oliver Wyman and Starfish Leadership to create AFP MindShift, which brings together the innovators and disruptors who will help practitioners make sense of emerging technologies. 

Finance professionals are famously practical, so the whitepaper, AFP MindShift: Emerging Technologies and the Finance Function might be useful in offering some case studies that might help you get your organization focused on the technology gap:

  • Allianz’ account reconciliations were a massive time draw until the company built a robotic program that automatically reconciles cash pool accounts. What used to take up to eight hours per day now just takes five minutes. Additionally, Allianz can run reconciliation more often, which helps ensure a higher quality of data. It also lays the foundation for even more robotic automation.
  • At the AFP conference in San Diego in October, I lost count of the number of time practitioners identified operational “silos” in their companies. With advanced artificial intelligence, communications can become instantaneous because data becomes standardized and the machine can “learn” to adapt to new situations, says Igor Rikalo, chief operating officer at 09 Solutions. “It’s a cliché but people are drowning in data,” he says. “You close the loop because the system learns what’s relevant.”
  • BNY Mellon’s broker-dealer service was crucial to government clearance and triparty repo markets, but the company needed to protect its data from loss or corruption. BNY Mellon created BDS 360, a third, separate blockchain system which could reconcile client transactions and balances in its primary systems. It allows the company to cross-validate the records in its primary system without reinventing new data sets. 

We’re really just scratching the surface of these new technologies’ potentials. The point is, though, technology is the kind help that finance professionals can’t very well refuse. Mind the gap. 

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Ready to try out these new technologies? Download AFP MindShift: Emerging Technologies and the Finance Function, for six practical steps to get you started.