Last year was the year of artificial intelligence (AI), declared Brighterion CEO Dr. Akli Adjaoute for PYMNTS' 2018 year-end eBook. The technology is proliferating financial markets, particularly for some of the world's largest financial institutions in need of enhanced compliance solutions.
Corporate treasurers are exploring AI for their own cash management and forecasting needs, while AI is also being explored among both traditional and alternative finance players for risk mitigation and underwriting purposes. The possibilities are vast, as AI ushers in a new era of automation and access to actionable insights, which are critical for financial professionals.
However, the technology isn't reserved for only the largest players in the markets: Small businesses (SMBs) and their accountants have emerged as key proponents of the tool, especially as anxieties wane over the possibility that AI could replace the need for human bookkeepers. Instead, the innovation is seen as a tool that can help automate some of the most mundane tasks for financial professionals, leaving experts — including SMB accountants — with more time to focus on value-added operations.
More than three-quarters of accountants surveyed by BlackLine last year said they believed AI would play a "significant" role in corporate accounting. When it comes to SMBs, more than two-thirds told Sage in a 2017 report that they expected technology to change the role of the small business accountant, with automated administrative tasks a highly anticipated (and largely welcome) shift coming to the space.
"As artificial intelligence and bots become progressively more intuitive, the door opens further [toward] the future of invisible admin, and gives them the space to spend their time on more valuable services for their clients," said Sage EVP of Product Marketing Jennifer Warawa in a statement at the time.
Turning Interest Into Adoption
Here's the catch: While businesses of all sizes are showing rising support for artificial intelligence for transforming their accounting operations, the technology is still rarely implemented for that purpose. That's according to the latest research from Oracle and the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA).
In a survey of 700 corporate finance leaders around the globe, researchers have uncovered even more evidence to support the benefits of AI in the accounting function. According to the data, there is "a clear correlation between the deployments of AI and revenue growth."
The report, "Agile Finance Unleashed: The Key Traits of Digital Finance Leaders," revealed nearly half of corporate finance leaders that are considered "tech-savvy" are reporting positive revenue growth, compared to just 29 percent of those considered to be "tech-challenged." Even so, only 11 percent of companies surveyed have integrated AI within their finance functions.
What's Holding Adoption Back
According to Oracle and the AICPA, one of the biggest barriers to adopting AI to enhance corporate finance is the belief that professionals lack the technological skills necessary to guide implementation.
Organizations that struggle with technology are missing out on a catalyst to digital transformation, too. For firms that are tech-savvy, having a cloud-first mindset opens the door for easier adoption of technologies like artificial intelligence. Therefore, with greater access to data analysis that can uncover key financial patterns, that supports revenue growth.
In a statement, AICPA Chief Executive of Management Accounting Andrew Harding emphasized that companies must prepare their finance teams with the knowledge and expertise to embrace technologies like AI.
"Businesses are missing out on huge growth potential by failing to give finance teams the tools and training they need to make better corporate decisions," he said. "Cloud and emerging technologies, like AI and blockchain, drive efficiency and improve insight and accuracy, enabling finance leaders to step into a more strategic role in the business, and improve the organization's data-driven decision-making."
He continued, "To make the most of these new technologies, finance teams need to simultaneously evolve the competencies of their staff in areas such as analytical thinking, decision-making and business partnering."