Artificial Intelligence to revolutionize Finance Departments and change the role of accountants

Finance & Accounting departments are experiencing fundamental changes as artificial intelligence (AI) software becomes more sophisticated, changing the type of work completed by current staff, according to research results released by BlackLine, Inc., a leading provider of financial controls and automation software that enables Continuous Accounting.

The research, conducted by Censuswide, incorporates the responses of 300 CFOs, finance directors and accountants in U.S. companies with annual revenues of more than $150 million. Nearly half (46%) the respondents indicate AI already plays a role in their organization today, and 30% are currently investigating its use.

“The responses underscore the growing power and use of AI tools and the implications for the finance organization,” said Therese Tucker, founder and CEO of BlackLine. “The finance department of the future will be a very different place.”

Asked to select areas within the finance department that would be most affected by AI, more than half (56%) the respondents said the technology should enable them to complete accounts payable and receivable functions without the need for human intervention. Almost half (49%) said AI would further facilitate the automation of reconciliations. Nearly one-third (31%) said the tools would assist the financial close.

The work performed by AI is not limited to process-heavy and time-consuming tasks, with nearly one-quarter (24%) of respondents projecting that AI tools could undertake strategic financial decisions, as well.

Shifting liability

The findings raise several key issues. Chief among them is CFO liability for a financial misstatement attributed to an incorrect decision made by AI that results in regulatory non-compliance. Interestingly, when asked to nominate who should be liable if an AI tool makes a decision that results in regulatory non-compliance, a fine or a fall in share price, just 16 percent of respondents said it should be the developer of the software. Almost half (45%) of the respondents think the CFO and/or the Finance & Accounting group should be liable.

“As more decisions are taken out of the hands of humans and entrusted to software, the question of liability becomes important,” said Ms. Tucker. “Clearly this is something that will need to be carefully considered at the board level before key finance decisions are made by AI.”

Rather than being something to fear, Tucker believes AI has the potential to deliver significant benefits to the finance department. “Job roles and workflow processes will alter as AI becomes more widespread,” she said. “But these intelligent tools will free finance and accounting staff from processing low-level tasks to become engaged in higher level, strategic activities.”

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