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Finance Teams Using AI Outperform Peers as Demand for Skills Grows

Survey Shows Finance Professionals See Their Roles Becoming More Strategic in Next 12 Months as Day-to-Day Roles Significantly Change

Unit4, a leader in enterprise cloud applications for people-centric organizations, announced the findings of Finance, AI and the future of decision making, Unit4’s global survey of finance professionals.

Finance teams adopting AI outperform non-adopters

While awareness of artificial intelligence (AI) among finance professionals is high with 70% at least a little knowledgeable about AI it is clear that those embracing it are outperforming their peers. When contrasted with respondents who have not yet adopted AI there are clear differences:

  • 47% of those who adopted AI believed their companies were performing strongly, compared to only 28% of non-adopters.
  • 49% of AI adopters felt their companies had strong leadership in contrast to only 32% of non-adopters.
  • Looking ahead 43% of AI adopters compared to only 21% of non-adopters believed they will maintain their strong position in 12 months.

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“AI is very much on the mind of finance departments around the world with early adopters confident it is having a positive impact on the performance of their organizations,” said Gordon Stuart, CFO, Unit4. “However, AI should not just be seen as a way to automate processes. Finance professionals should use it as an opportunity to move into a more strategic role, becoming storytellers and influencers, interpreting data through technology analysis, and translating the findings into meaningful insights relevant to their organizations.”

In the next two years 83% of global respondents expect to be increasingly involved in strategy and decision making, while 75% say their day jobs will have changed significantly in the same timeframe. There is a very strong desire to upskill, as 83% say that those in finance roles will have to enhance their skillsets in the next two years. In the next 12 months, more than four fifths of respondents are expecting to focus this upskilling on AI, machine learning, coding, analytics and data science capabilities, but a third of respondents accept their organizations will need to bring in new hires to address the skills gap.

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Does finance truly understand the value of AI?

There is significant potential for AI to enhance the use of FP&A, but this requires an understanding that AI can do more than automate mundane tasks. Respondents to Unit4’s study suggest the top benefits of AI are improving data quality (33%) and saving time (32%), but only a quarter of respondents say it would help colleagues make faster decisions, and only 24% believe it would deliver actionable insights for decision making.

This suggests finance professionals do not fully grasp how AI can enrich FP&A and help businesses make more informed decisions about predicting future growth and market opportunities. This could be because survey respondents are not placing enough emphasis on strategic leadership skills. Only a quarter say inter-personal and influencing skills will be key for future finance professionals and only 21% say storytelling will be important.

“From our experience, if finance professionals want to play a more strategic role they must have the business and leadership skills to identify what the business needs to prioritize to succeed,” Georgina Kossivas, Chief Financial and Risk Officer, Nuclear Waste Management Organization. “Communications skills are also incredibly important to articulate insights in terms that are relevant to senior decision makers. Investments in AI will only deliver on their true potential if finance professionals have developed these skills sufficiently.”

Methodology

On behalf of Unit4 DJS Research surveyed 1,760 decision makers within finance departments in AustraliaBelgiumCanadaFranceGermanythe NetherlandsNorwaySingaporeSwedenthe United States and the United Kingdom. Respondents were taken from mid-market sized companies with 100 to 9,999 employees. When surveying respondents the explanation of AI used was: “Artificial intelligence (AI) refers to computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition and data-driven decision-making. Machine learning, predictive analytics and robotic process automation (RPA) are all included within AI.”

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