Participants discussed the challenges they faced, their desire to provide strategic guidance to the business and required skill sets of the future. Common sentiments from the group included the need and desire to move away from backwards-looking statutory reporting to the more fulfilling work of proactively and strategically guiding the business. Regulations like Solvency II and the upcoming IFRS 17 mandate force finance to prioritize compliance related tasks which can be all-consuming but finance needs to find a way to shift away from this way of working..
As CFO consultant, Colin Charles recognized, "There is a danger that you are asked to do things and you cannot do it as well as you would like to because the regulatory returns have to be the number one priority. So you stop being asked. Finance professionals need to push those doors back open again and say, Yes, we can do this."
Participants were also asked to look forward five years to what the finance function might look like. Many saw automation and increasing use of AI as likely to impact the accounting function and hopefully free up time to focus on valuable activities while minimizing painful tasks like reconciliation. However, automation still has to allow finance leaders to understand the underlying logic.
Chris O’Brien, CFO at Travelers Lloyd’s Syndicate 5000 observed, "there is a risk sometimes with automation that you lose the understanding. It becomes a black box and it says, ‘The answer is this.’ If someone challenges that, you may not know what has gone on. We have to embrace automation, but we need to make sure we do not lose the ability to provide the basic essential check at the end: does that look right?"
Overall, the group felt the finance function has a unique role to play and if they can establish partnerships throughout the organization and focus on curating and presenting detailed, valuable data to inform business decisions, they can make a considerable impact.
Thank you to all our participants! We look forward to hosting another roundtable soon. The full article is available here.