How AI, politics and cybersecurity are changing finance – insights from CFO Rising Europe

At this year's CFO Rising Europe summit, we gathered insights on the issues on top of finance executives' minds

14Sep

In the daunting face of impending digitization, the threat of job loss as a result of automation, the looming finance talent gap and unsettling global political instability, the career of a CFO has never been more changeable or faced more daily disruption.

At CFO Rising Europe in London on 12–13 September, we gained some insights into what most weighs on the mind of the CFO in 2018:

Automation will not kill off finance roles, but they will need to morph …

New technology such as AI is set to ease financial processes and will likely replace more repetitive finance roles with the more efficient "robotic touch". However, the need for humans in finance is not set to go anywhere soon. In fact, as was established at the summit, finance positions will only be enhanced when individuals embrace new technology like automation.

"McKinsey say that robots will replace 800 million jobs by 2030," stated Kathryn Sharrett, CFO of Financial Services Compensation Scheme. "There is a fear that people will lose their jobs and the harsh reality is that some may, but they will be replaced by new roles."

Now is the time for individuals working in finance to prepare themselves for these new roles by utilizing new technology's rather than rejecting it and becoming outdated themselves.

"The World Economic Forum talks about a skills revolution, and with this comes a raft of new opportunities" Sharatt continues. "The face of finance is changing. Existing finance roles will morph, and instead we will see a focus on independent thinking, values and team work as the repetitive/routine is replaced by automation.

"The important thing to consider is how do we all get prepared for this, so we can be the best we can be to take advantage of how technology can actually help us going forward?"

But being human has never been more important to finance…

In the face of the much-anticipated fourth industrial revolution, human skills are enormously valuable.

AI in its current form will never be able to make fully "human" decisions, so emotional, human skills are more important than ever before. Traits like emotional intelligence, creativity, imagination, intuition, emotion and ethics will become even more important to finance departments in the future.

AI is only as good as the financial data it uses…

There is a danger in relying on AI to make perfect decisions that humans cannot, as at this current stage, it is only as effective at making decisions as the data it is given. There is the very real risk that rushing to implement AI systems could lead companies and individuals to make imperfect or even unethical decisions because of incomplete or unbalanced data sets.

"At the moment, organizations make decisions with imperfect data anyway," says Sharrett "AI may help you get the data quicker to look at but there's always a human overlay in whether or not it considers all the necessary factors."

The CFO is now expected to drive change and transformation...

The finance department is no longer siloed as it has been traditionally. The days where the role of the CFO was one that simply focused on money is long gone as more than 40% of CFOs now report spending the majority of their time on non-finance issues more related to the overall business. More and more, the CFO is seen as a business partner and expected to use their expertise to drive change and transformation.

Additionally, the relationship with the CEO is more important than ever before, with the CFO needing to provide support in more ways than financial. "The CEO is a lonely job, so increasingly, as CFO, you're the companion of the CEO. That relationship is more important than deep knowledge of the role or industry you're in," commented Russell Hoare, CFO at Byron.

Economics and politics are more intertwined than ever before…

In a world with as much political instability as ours today, regardless of their take on it, politics cannot be removed from the CFO's day-to-day.

Trump's threats of trade wars, for example, threaten to destabilize the global economy. Assuming a 10-point increase in tariffs on US trade over the next three years and possible retaliation from other nations, the Bank of England has predicted a loss of 2.5% from global growth. This would mean a loss of more than 5% from US GDP, with just under 2% in the UK and around 2.2% for the Eurozone.

Political instability in Europe caused by the rise of far-right groups, driven by low wages and the refugee crisis, and the range of unknowns in terms of the outcome of Brexit, including the threat of a 'no-deal' Brexit.

"We live in a time of the 'political economy'," said Ben Chu, economics editor at The Independent. "In the current climate, any economic outlook that fails to include geopolitics and the potential spill-over affects has a very doubtful value."

Read Chu's take on the biggest factors influencing the Eurozone HERE.

The CFO must take responsibility for cybersecurity…

Again, the expectation that the CFO's responsibilities stretch beyond finance and into risk mitigation mean that increasingly high-level finance executives must take the helm with regard to cybersecurity.

Steffan Tomlinson, CFO of Palo Alto Networks recently stated: "As the threat of cyber-attacks and cyber-risk continues to increase, I foresee CFOs across the world learning, adapting and building competency to successfully address this critical challenge.

"There are many creative approaches I have witnessed CFOs employ to build their skill in cybersecurity, but the one that most commonly stands out is when the CFO views cybersecurity through the lens of enterprise risk management," he added.

With 2018 seeing the impact of GDPR stretching from the Eurozone and beyond and the heightened awareness among the general public of data security in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, this is an area that can no longer be put on the back burner. For example, for companies operating in the EU, the potential consequence of non-compliance with data security is a fine of 2% of annual turnover, or ten million euros, whichever is higher.

Organizations today need to ensure an individual has been identified as the first responder in a crisis situation and more and more frequently CFOs are reporting that they have adopted this responsibility.

These insights were fathered at the CFO Rising Europe Summit taking place in London on September 12–13, 2018. To find out more about future CFO Rising events, visit CFO Rising West Summit and CFO Rising East Summit.

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