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Why AI-enabled finance will be critical to sustaining competitive advantage

Matthias Thurner, Chief Product Officer for Unit4

 

Smart machines are on the rise, and they are already helping CFOs make better, data-driven business decisions to outpace the competition

 

The business benefits of AI are common across industries: eliminating manual processes, making business nimbler and more responsive, and supplying insights in real-time.

AI and its machine learning technology can already replicate some finance processes and actions. They can analyse data, take over complete tasks, and generate reports. Given sufficient data and processing power, AI-powered corporate performance management (CPM) promises to do almost anything a human finance pro can do now – but faster.

AI-powered CPM is already able to examine in a few minutes multiple complex financial models – heavy brain work that a finance professional might need days to work through – and uncover variances in seconds.

Used effectively, these capabilities can supercharge finance processes and help CFOs deliver new business agility and market responsiveness to their companies.

Gaining new insights faster is the key. At period end, CFOs are the first to notice when sales of a product are up or down. What if they could also see the relevant customer behaviors that signal a coming rise or decline?

Are there recurring problems with certain products that generate more returns and refunds? What are customer support tickets and PoS feedback telling us about purchase satisfaction? How quickly are we able to fulfill online orders versus our nearest competitors? By putting AI tools to work, CFOs are better positioned to answer these questions and recommend course adjustments.

 

AI in finance today

Smart assistants like Apple’s Siri can already handle questions on stock quotes and weather. What if you could ask a finance digital assistant on your smart phone to list product categories that have fallen short of forecast in the latest financial results? The bot would allow you to have a ‘conversation’ with the CPM system, and tell you where the anomalies occurred.

And there are digital assistants that can already answer queries in seconds that would take a human hours of analysis. Which of our products is likely to miss budgeted unit sales this quarter? Is business unit Y on-track to reach its cost-of-sales target? Compare the profitability of the following regions in February and March of 2018.

Like Siri or Alexa, these assistants can take these queries by voice or text and provide replies in natural language.

This is one way in which AI can augment the finance function and make it better. In the future, chatbots will work in the background to help CFOs improve performance, not just measure it. Rather than process data on request, AI-powered CPM systems will automatically consider finance and other business data in real-time as it arrives in the system. It will note potential problems and, for example, suggest measures to reduce costs where they look to be over-running.

While finance teams at a competitor’s HQ continue to apply more established (and reactive) ways of improving cost efficiency and effectiveness, finance teams leveraging AI will be delivering insights that help sustain profitability and identify potential issues in the market before they impact revenues.

 

Preparing for the future

This shift from augmenting finance decisions to driving them is already underway. But as with any new technology, there will be early and late adopters. The leaders will have a critical advantage in terms of responsiveness to changing economic, sales, and market conditions. While CFOs who sit too long on the side-lines risk falling behind.

The first job of finance is to get the numbers right, and the arrival of AI technology won’t change that. In the relentless drive to improve efficiency and stay ahead of the competition however, AI is a new set of tools with the potential to transform the finance function.

In the months and years to come, AI-based advances to CPM software will offer new ways to automate human processes and deliver business insights faster than competitors using traditional systems. Future thinking CFOs should start evaluating how to be at the forefront of AI-powered finance today.

 

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Technology

HOW CHARITIES CAN MEET TOMORROW’S DIGITAL CHALLENGES?

By Steve Georgiou, Business Consultant at Xpedition 

 

Charities are under constant scrutiny for how they handle their finances. Budgets are often squeezed and as a result, it can be hard to justify spending on mediums such as new technology, which aren’t always seen as “necessities.”

And yet, there’s a new generation of workers waiting in the wings who have grown up using technology in all aspects of life.  There are also 57% of charity employees who believe the sectors’ development is being hindered by lack of embracing new technology. For those that are willing, a digital strategy has never been more important for a charity’s future outlook.

 

The Next Generation

Many organisations are not prioritising the technological expectations of today’s younger generation. -. Everything outside of the workplace for the upcoming generation is already technology-driven, including the skills they’re learning right now. It’s already disrupting industries and career plans, and by the time this generation steps into employment, the way we live and work will have become even more advanced.

Competition in the Third Sector has always been on the up. Donation methods have changed, securing funds has never been more competitive, reporting is now a lot more stringent, and the next generation of employees have defined efficient methods of ensuring the organisation they are employed by is not left behind.

For charities that are using legacy financial systems that are often old, outdated and costly to maintain, if they do not take the steps now to digitally transform, they’ll fall further behind. Good governance dictates Charities should be investing in modern technology to support the organisation in both its medium- and long-term digital strategy. Ultimately, Charities want to engage stakeholders and employees, simplify processes, streamline efficiency and guide change – but they cannot do this without investing in modern technology to enable change in this fast-moving digital world we live in.

 

A Digital Future 

In times gone by, financial systems were predominantly used to support the back-office finance function. This has all changed. With advances in technology, such as the latest all-in-one financial management solutions, there are now tangible benefits that add value to the whole organisation.

These tools can strengthen decision making, reduce administration time and provide real-time, accurate reporting, all of which are valuable assets for tomorrow’s demands.

There is a real case to be made for a fully digital third sector using financial technology one which thrives and gives not-for-profits huge benefits:

 

Data Management and Analysis

The contemporary digital landscape is all about big and beautiful data. Job roles are evolving to cater for the data boom, organisations are now hiring increasing numbers of Data Analysts and Business Analysts. And one of the most significant benefits that the third sector can expect to see by taking on digital methods is greater data transparency.

The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data. Data is being transformed into a core asset, one which is being used to tackle charity-wide challenges. Daily admin duties such as data analysis and entry are being taken over more and more by financial management solutions.  This not only removes the need for online time-heavy tedious tasks, but also reduces the number of different sources people have to use to find and analyse data.

Whether it is finance, fundraising, HR or anything else, the efforts of the organisation should be in the analysis of the data to make better informed decisions in the best interests of the charity.

 

Use Cloud to Reduce TCO 

The resistance to change and the associated investment have been barriers to digital transformation for charities. Every organisation wants to achieve greater efficiency and free-up further funding for their frontline

Activities, such as maintaining hardware and the disruption of upgrading are all a thing of the past.

From maintenance to mobility, cloud computing can help you to significantly reduce the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). With the cloud, there is no need for onsite hardware or expensive upgrades – you are simply sent a URL for storage. This offers you the flexibility to scale your data storage capacity depending on your needs at the time, avoiding the need for expensive hardware. This on-demand, “pay as you grow” approach avoids hedging your bets on unnecessary data storage. The cloud also has greater mobility, allowing for remote workers to access communications from anywhere, with no further technology needed. Backup and restore can be initiated from any location, using multiple devices, and does not need maintenance – reducing the need for a dedicated IT person.

 

Consider Digital, before your Charity becomes marginalised.

With a new generation of workers waiting in the wings, and financial management technology that has the power to provide value for all aspects of the organisation, a digital strategy has never been more important for a charity’s financial efforts. They will not settle for a business that is stuck a decade behind due to not embracing change.

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Technology

COUNTING THE COST OF SILENT CYBER

– Akber Datoo, Founding Partner, D2 Legal Technology

 

Damaged reputation. Financial loss. Punitive capital adequacy provision. Silent cyber is one of the biggest issues facing the insurance industry. Yet despite the Prudential Regulatory Authority’s (PRA) demands for robust action plans, few firms have put in place the document digitisation required to truly understand the level of risk. Further, it is somewhat ironic that an industry that is predicated on pricing risk, is failing to assess and understand this risk that exists today in its back catalogue. From determining the current silent cyber position to identifying policy wording changes and analysing the legacy book, Akber Datoo, Founding Partner, D2 Legal Technology, highlights the need to digitise policy documents.

 

Non Affirmative Loss

“Silent Cyber” is the term given to cyber related losses that may/or may not fall under a traditional property and liability policies that were not designed for that purpose.

The concerns of silent cyber have recently come to the fore and the shock waves created by the Mondelez / Zurich Insurance case have reverberated around the market. Whilst publicity may have temporarily abated over the past few months, very few insurance companies have begun to truly address the risk posed by silent cyber. In an industry predicated on strong reputation, the decision by Zurich to reject a claim from a client whose business had been devastated by the NotPetya cyber-attack in 2017 made headlines around the world – not least for citing exclusion for ‘hostile or warlike action in time of peace or war’ by a ’government or sovereign power’.

Yet as the cost of such attacks are being counted, the impact of silent cyber on the industry as a whole is becoming painfully apparent. PCS Global Cyber has recently attributed 90% of the insurance industry’s losses relating to the NotPetya cyber-attack to non-affirmative (silent) cyber, and the rest to affirmative losses.

Certainly, the PRA believes the UK insurance industry can do more to ensure the effective management of affirmative and non-affirmative cyber risk exposures. It has ordered firms to develop an action plan, with clear milestones and dates by which action will be taken.

 

Divergent Attitudes

Despite the cost to the industry, there remains a concerning lack of consistency in terms of risk awareness and planning as well as risk appetite and understanding. The PRA’s own survey in 2018 revealed significant divergence in firms’ views of the potential exposure to silent cyber. Within Marine, Aviation and Transport (MAT), Property and Miscellaneous lines, exposure was rated at anywhere between zero and the full limits.

With PCS Global Cyber believing the cost to the industry of NotPetya associated claims has now exceeded $3 billion, there is ever greater focus on insurance companies’ cyber stress tests. Fears that gross losses could run into the multiples of annual cyber premiums are very real. However, to date such exercises are based on minimal fact: firms lack robust or reliable claims data relating to silent cyber. As a result, models are immature and there is little faith in the resultant capital adequacy calculations. Just how much capital should the regulator demand firms to set aside against possible exposures when the silent cyber risk is so poorly understood?

In addition to the model and assessment demanded by the PRA, firms need to look closely at existing policy documentation to gain better insight into risk. What is the current position? Does wording need to be amended to address silent cyber risk? How can the legacy book be analysed and key data and wording from the contracts extracted to assess the potential silent cyber exposure going forward?

 

Document Digitisation

In many ways, the insurance industry is better placed than many for the challenges ahead. Document digitisation has been on the agenda for some time and the industry has already created clause libraries to make it easier for firms to gain access to vetted policy wordings and regularly used clauses. However, the low take-up of these libraries is disappointing. Not only do firms have a somewhat confusing choice – between the Lloyd’s Wording Repository, the IUA (International Underwriting Association) Clauses Document Library and the Xchanging Model Wordings Library, but the checklist structure is not providing the required solution.

Insurance companies and brokers need to better understand how to use these clause libraries within current business models, preferably in tandem with a document generation tool to improve data management. The goal is to create data driven contracts, where documents are drafted based on known outlooks. But to get to that point, firms need to actively embrace document digitisation to gain a better handle over the current risk position and create a foundation for rapidly changing wording to avoid any ambiguity regarding silent cyber. Moreover, we need the link wordings in clause libraries to classified business outcomes, and then derive business intelligence from policy portfolios.

 

Conclusion

No firm wants to risk the reputational damage associated with refusing a high profile claim – nor endure the huge losses associated with attacks such as NotPetya. With the rise in cyber attacks, this is an issue that has to be addressed immediately: firms need to act now and embrace the opportunity of digitisation strategies within policy documentation to mitigate the potentially devastating silent cyber risk.

 

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