Australian business leaders ready to embrace AI and other emerging technologies to enhance financial operations

Australian business leaders ready to embrace AI and other emerging technologies to enhance financial operations

Australian C-suite and finance and accounting (F&A) leaders believe the modern business has to embrace new technologies like AI to streamline their financial operations, though many admit they may lack the requisite talent to execute on it, according to a survey commissioned by digital finance transformation leader BlackLine, Inc.

An overwhelming majority of respondents said that cloud computing (88%), generative AI (78%), and new kinds of AI (84%) are essential for improving business resiliency in the face of future disruption.  However, the current shortage of skills in F&A could be exacerbated by a lack of skills in these new technologies, putting further strain on the skills gap. Just under one-third of those surveyed (31%) identified the ability to use new technology or software as a key skill needed to help their company remain agile in the face of disruptive events, yet more than a quarter (34%) said not having the right skills on their F&A team today or the ability to develop them would be a problem for the adoption of AI and other new technologies.

The survey, conducted recently by independent research agency Censuswide, asked 170 C-suite and F&A professionals around Australia about their views on emerging technologies and their potential impact on F&A and businesses more broadly.

Rosie Cairnes (pictured), Regional Vice President Australia and New Zealand, BlackLine, said, “In today’s business environment, financial automation technology is now a necessity for F&A departments, and many businesses are excited and optimistic about how technology, including AI, can further streamline processes and augment existing systems. While there is understandable apprehension in the adoption of emerging technologies, F&A leaders have an opportunity to enable the upskilling of their teams through automation and ultimately reinforce their position as internal strategic advisers and enablers of corporate performance.

“Today’s digital first businesses demand that business leaders continue to proactively embrace available technologies to reduce time spent on manual tasks, cut down on errors in financial data, and provide visibility that will help them make faster and more informed decisions while at the same time reinforcing the business strategy’s overall goals for transformation and growth.”

When asked specifically about how AI could positively impact their industry, C-suite and F&A professionals highlighted five key benefits:

  1. Enhanced audit capabilities, which would improve the identification of patterns and detection of potential fraud or errors
  2. The ability to process large volumes of financial data at high speed, which will lead to more insightful analysis
  3. Automation of repetitive tasks, which will improve accuracy and reduce errors
  4. The ability to analyse large sets of financial data to identify compliance gaps
  5. Improved analysis of historical financial data to help improve forecasting capabilities

Hurdles remain

Respondents also recognised the hurdles the F&A industry will need to overcome to adopt AI technology effectively. The most commonly identified of which is integration with existing systems, creating governance frameworks that are sufficiently robust to stop the misuse of AI, and trusting the outputs of AI. Resistance to change, the pressure to adopt before being ready and training AI models to understand and interpret complex financial data accurately were also key concerns.

Bridging the skills gap

As businesses explore how they can harness these technologies, most concede that they lack sufficient expertise in these areas. 69% said their organisation does not have enough team members with deep technical knowledge to identify and resolve complex accounting issues.  Additionally, bringing these skills into F&A departments is proving particularly difficult. Seventy-eight per cent struggle to recruit and retain enough skilled F&A employees to fulfil internal control responsibilities. Only around a third of respondents said their F&A department currently has sufficient skills when it comes to strategic thinking (32%) and the ability to analyse data (35%). Even fewer (31%) feel they currently have the skills to be able to use new technology or software.

Mike Polaha, Senior Vice President of Finance Solutions and Technology, BlackLine, said, “Technology can provide some relief in helping to create an environment where accountants are not spending all day in spreadsheets, booking journal entries, and reconciling accounts. The more automation a company can provide, the greater the elimination of mundane tasks for F&A team members. This will go a long way to improving perceptions of the industry and, in turn, can create more exciting and challenging roles for new and existing talent alike.”

“As the business landscape becomes increasingly complex, organisations with skill-ready F&A teams will possess a competitive advantage. Those fluent in the use of emerging data, analytics, and AI modelling technologies will be able to garner business insights that can better serve broader organisational functions, such as Sales, HR, and IT, helping them to seize opportunities and evade potential disruptions. These teams will not only be better equipped to navigate the future but will also drive innovation and efficiency in day-to-day operations. Now is the time for F&A leaders to build the skill-set of their existing workforce to future-proof their operations and strengthen their organization’s resilience.”