How Automation Creates Long Term Value

Finance technology is a CFO’s best friend for transforming the finance function into a value-add engine for the business. But while GenAI may be getting all the headlines, don’t discount the power of robotic process automation so soon.

Strategies for finance transformation success

Shelsea Adrian (Product Evangelist at Yooz), Sarah Hulme (CFO at SkyNet Worldwide Express UK), and Mark Laine-Toner (Finance Director at Evri) give their top tips for cutting through the hype around new technology, and the critical role of automation in driving long-term value for the future of finance.

Chomping at the bit to get your hands on the latest finance technology? 

Then you might be wise to take a breath. 

Fever-pitch hype around AI in finance is putting CFOs at risk of making the jump into finance transformation too soon without a clear plan to begin with, according to Mark:

“Start by having a vision. Don’t go for the tool first and try to fit it around your strategy! When I first joined Evri as CFO, we spent a good three months working through what we wanted to deliver and how we wanted to do it. You always need a clear purpose to deliver against.” 

For Sarah, crafting that vision involves taking a long hard look at your current state of affairs, and where AI for finance can fill in the gaps: 

“Be brutally honest with yourself about the capabilities within your team, and get clear on what you want to achieve. AI and automation can then be used as the bridge between the two.”

Pinpointing areas within your team that will actually benefit from automation is essential. But CFOs need to dream big and reframe finance as a value-add function to make a case for investment in finance technology, according to Mark: 

“It’s an uphill battle when customers or stakeholders within businesses don’t understand how finance can be utilised to add value. Businesses attuned to the value finance has to offer understand why it’s worth investing in AI for finance.”

From the outside looking in as product evangelist and educator at vendor company Yooz, Shelsea has constructive criticism for CFOs looking to better position finance as a value-add function: 

“A lot of finance leaders say they want to add value and are looking to implement AI into their finance processes. But they’re not taking the time to communicate with all levels of the business to achieve that.”

The message is don’t run before you can walk when it comes to digital finance transformation, and take a two-pronged approach of assessing the needs of your immediate team alongside wider business backing: 

“Get to know what’s required of finance from the top-down, both in terms of leadership buy-in and delivering on what the business is trying to achieve across all functions first.”

GenAI vs. Robotic Process Automation

So you’ve cracked the masterplan and locked in your long-term goals for the future of finance. Now it’s time to get to the good stuff - choosing the right transformation tool for you.

But is the industry frenzy around GenAI well worth the hype, or is robotic process automation where it’s at?

“Both GenAI and robotic process automation are very important, but in my opinion we shouldn’t overplay the former before we’ve done the latter!” according to Mark. 

“GenAI can be a fantastic assistant for finance folks; it can write code and formulas for you, and do great interpretations of data and analytics. But fundamentally, if your dataset isn’t clean in the first place, GenAI isn’t going to help.”

So, beware jumping the gun and implementing AI too soon as a fix-all solution to your finance problems. After all, poor data will always give poor results, says Shelsea:

“Always make sure you have clean master data and a clear workflow in place before you start an automation project from scratch!”

Mark sees robotic process automation as the biggest game changer for finance at Evri: 

“It’s not just brilliant for transaction accounting but also for enabling good quality data. We spent the last two and a half years ensuring we have robust data sources. From there we’ve been able to start building an AI query logic on top, but make no mistake we couldn’t have done that without the hard work to get the data right first.”

Ultimately, knowing where a little help from technology is needed most will ensure it’s worth the investment whatever you choose, says Shelsea:

“There’s a difference between GenAI like ChatGPT that can generate information in seconds, versus an automated process that can cut time throughout an entire financial process. It’s all about where you think your business needs the most time back and what area is going to give you the most value-add.”

Above all, look for long-term value over sticking-plaster solutions, according to Sarah: 

“Don’t just patch up a broken process. It’s a journey, so come to terms with the fact it could take years. But just know it’s worth it to take the time to do finance transformation in a way that fits the long-term needs of the business.”

Shaping the modern finance workforce

Amongst so many exciting possibilities for digital change, don’t forget an equally important piece of the puzzle: getting your team on board for the journey. 

People strategy can make or break your transformation strategy, but for Mark, reassuring your team you’ve got their best interests at heart is a good way to keep them engaged: 

“I have a clear agenda for my team: the reason why I’m here is to help them have the best jobs that they can have. Whatever journey is needed to get to that point is the one we’re embarking on.”

Whether you’re dealing with sceptics, cynics, or simply those with less experience, Sarah suggests inspiring your finance team to reinvent themselves as the tech-savvy, value-add business analysts they were born to be: 

“As a leader, you have to take immature finance functions by the scruff of the neck! Encourage them to collaborate and stress that participation is valuable and required. My current team is less senior and established, but they’ve come a long way in six months due to the simple fact they feel their work is actually important to the business.”

Getting team members with a range of digital experience on the same page for finance transformation is no mean feat - and you might find it’s compounded by generational differences and divides, warns Shelsea:

“I’m seeing younger team members joining companies and feeling horrified at how little automation and AI is in place. It’s becoming more and more common for younger generations to expect this type of technology, rather than having to manually do things such as scanning documents and inputting data fields one by one.”

Sarah concurs with a similar experience at SkyNet, where a scheme to bring smart grads into the workplace reflects a big belief in nurturing young talent:

“Younger talent can really lift the whole team to adopt new systems. On the flipside, when systems aren’t yet fully automated or evolved, it becomes a challenge to keep younger team members engaged and manage their frustrations.”

Finance technology is an investment in your future workforce as much as it is your current one. But above all, bringing everyone along for the ride is essential for finance transformation success, says Mark:

“What we’re experiencing is a revolution. Human beings themselves will never be redundant, but we will always have to rethink how to add value, and that’s true across every industry. As long as people embrace that, they stand to win.”

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Christopher Argent, Founder, GENCFO

Chris is the founder and MD of and creator of the Digital Finance Function Model and a contributor to many articles on our platform. Chris focuses on the shift toward digital transformation in accounting and finance, shows you what good looks like, then helps to get you there!

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