Robots will be your colleagues, not your enemy

The march of automation and robots, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are impacting our workplaces. A recent study suggests 77% UK business leaders see robots becoming part of finance teams in the future, with 49% thinking that robots will replace finance professionals in the next five years. Nick Jackson, President, CIMA and Finance Transformation Leader at Oracle comments


espite the predicted increase in automation in finance teams, this is not to say a brutal employment war is imminent. Rather, the research points to a future in which humans and robots can work side-by-side. While workers whose role revolve around crunching vast sheets of numbers may be facing change, this is an opportunity rather than a threat.

Trusting a programme with your money

An important shift we’ve seen recently is greater trust among both consumers and business leaders towards AI programmes that automate key tasks in functions such as finance. There is a general understanding that robots are not only capable of handling basic tasks as well as a human, but in many cases, they can supersede them. Research into this development paints a stark picture, with two thirds of UK business leaders trusting robots over their own finance teams to manage key tasks. Yes – they don’t only trust AI programmes to handle transactional tasks, but they would pick these robots over trained and experienced finance professionals. This is not just the case in the business world either – it applies to individuals too. Two thirds (65%) of the UK would trust a robot over themselves to manage their personal finances. People are beginning to trust robots not just with their company’s finances, but with their own life savings.

While this is certainly a somewhat shocking finding, taking a step back it makes great sense. Who would you rather have looking over a spreadsheet with thousands or tens of thousands of numbers and codes, indecipherable to most humans and complex to even the experienced? Which party would be better suited to crunch complex numbers repeatedly to come out with reliable and accurate results? Indeed, the research shows that the main areas that UK business leaders see robots assisting are these heavily data-driven activities such as approvals (39%), budgeting & forecasting (33%) and reporting (29%).

Furthermore, these programmes are often capable of achieving feats that people, no matter how experienced, simply cannot. In finance, understanding the constantly shifting risks and trends in the market is crucial to success. When it comes to doing this every day and with greater accuracy than your competitors, nothing can compare to the power of machine learning. These programmes are able to discern the most subtle of patterns from your data sets, patterns that no human could readily either spot or turn into insights before they become irrelevant. If you are a budget holder, would you rather have an advisor going with their gut, or a machine capable of processing data unimaginably faster?

Better work, not redundancy

It is important to note that the arrival of robots is not a precursor of massive layoffs. Rather, it is the first step in the reassignment of young professionals to more creative, personal and engaging rolls. Many of these junior staff are given jobs that revolve around processing large amounts of data with great accuracy, such as reporting and budgeting. These tasks, while mundane, are invariably crucial to the business and, therefore, require slow and careful checking and rechecking. Not only is this a poor use of these workers’ potential to add value, but it is an easy way to erode enthusiasm and morale.

Automating these tasks will not only improve their efficiency, but free up the people previously slaving over the data to work on more engaging jobs. Indeed, the research also showed that many UK business leaders would still prefer humans to deal with roles such as communicating with customers (43%) and negotiating discounts (40%). Robots will not make people redundant, but they will simply let them be reassigned to where they not only can add greater value but derive greater satisfaction from their work.

Market welcomes broader services 

The assumption companies only want a traditional financial audit is outdated. Some 96% of respondents want auditors to broaden their services and 87% welcome an extension of audit into new areas, such as non-financial reporting on climate risk.

Services that audit users welcome include training (78%) and assurance that covers: data privacy or security (59%), sustainability (53%) and internal controls (52%). We know it’s no longer relevant to focus only on financial information to communicate the performance of companies, which explains this call for broader assurance.

Any expansion in the scope of services must be considered alongside conflicts of interest: expanding into assurance services should be compatible with statutory auditing but it’s important to apply rules based on local guidance.

Colleagues of tomorrow

At the end of the day, these programmes are closer to enabling tools than competitors for finance professionals. Even if certain roles become overwhelmingly the territory of computers and robots, human workers will continue to perform crucial roles in finance teams and with the wider business. Most business leaders are already onboard with this transformation of the finance industry, before long AI integration will undoubtably become the industry standard. What is crucial now is for businesses to begin their preparation for this change, if it is not already underway. Robots have arrived, and they’re here to stay.