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CFOS OF CONSUMER BRANDS: THE FUTURE VALUE CHAMPION?

By Paul Prendergast, managing director for the Consulting practice in the products industry at Accenture.

We have seen huge disruption across a range of industries, with no signs of slowing down. For the big consumer brands, the relentless pace of change is creating higher consumer expectations and upending traditional certainties on an epic scale.

Consumers are firmly in the driving seat and looking for more than just a “product”. They’re using digital platforms to buy directly from manufacturers, bypassing traditional retail. They want services that bring convenience to their lives and searching for experiences that embody the brand purpose they’ve bought into. The challenge for companies is to deliver something that’s “just right” for each consumer, meeting their individual needs at the precise moment.

And the smaller players are giving them exactly what they want but turning “business as usual” on its head and creating new models on agile operating structures that engage in a larger ecosystem and accelerate innovation to satisfy growing consumer demand for low cost, personalized products and services.

The traditional consumer goods operating models simply weren’t designed for this level of complexities. Successful companies will be those who can achieve an incredible amount of organizational agility – something that many just don’t have yet. It also calls for a rethink of the entire value chain, all the way from developing new concepts, through manufacturing, to the store shelf and beyond.

To find new growth, brands must solve these challenges, injecting agility across the business, leveraging a wider ecosystem of partners, and delivering relevance at scale for a marketplace of millions of individuals.

Enter the CFO

Chief Financial Officers are uniquely positioned to help drive this journey forward. They have a crucial role in driving the efficiencies in the core business. They have the necessary insights to build the business case for change, targeting operational improvements and the use of new digital technologies to unlock value and drive more profitable growth.

Accenture’s research shows that CFOs see their role is changing. They’re now just as likely to view themselves as “value champions” and “transformation drivers” as their more traditional business functions. For instance, 81 percent of surveyed CFOs say targeting areas of new value across the business is a major focus, while 78 percent say they lead efforts to drive business-wide operational transformations and efficiencies through digital technology.

CFOs understand the need for speed and agility today, with over half those surveyed (58 percent) saying they’re working towards real-time analysis of business performance. Interestingly, that’s expected to rise to a massive 89 percent in three years’ time.

New roles, new skillsets

Delivering relevance at scale means adapting the consumer goods supply chain for new levels of personalization and multiple sales channels. Given the challenges of doing this alone, most brands will need to leverage a much wider ecosystem of partners across the value chain. And here CFOs have a vital role to play. They can bring a data-driven approach to selecting partners, while ensuring this complex endeavor remains focused on the value-adding outcomes the business is targeting.

We are seeing more CFOs actively taking a lead on data governance. They understand the value of data and see it as a strategic business asset, with 84 percent of finance departments taking responsibility for their organization’s data governance (higher than in any other industry surveyed). In fact, “inconsistent, inaccurate and inaccessible data” is viewed as the greatest challenge facing today’s consumer goods CFOs according to Accenture Research.

These new requirements are changing the CFO skills profile. CFOs themselves say that anticipating and managing risk, long-term strategic thinking, and insight into new technologies are now their most important capabilities. And they know the broader finance function needs to change too, with the ability to innovate now the most sought-after capability for junior finance staff.

Five actions every CFO should be taking today

So what are the immediate priorities for consumer goods CFOs as they drive relevance at scale for their brands? There are five actions every CFO should be taking today:

#1 Start with digitizing finance – then the company. Finance is an ideal testing ground for digital technology, automation, and AI. CFOs should be using their experience and lessons learned to drive a digital transformation across the business.

#2 Plan holistically and harness data for insights. CFOs know the value of data visibility and should champion the use of real-time analytics and insights across the C-suite and beyond.

#3 Develop the future finance workforce. CFOs should be planning holistically for their future talent needs, including promoting the greater use of AI and other innovative digital technologies.

#4 Drive a deep transformation of operations. CFOs should be considering zero-based budgeting as a means of creating spend visibility, driving the efficiencies that can fund a pivot to new growth.

#5 Be the architect of value. CFOs should be influencing decisions about ecosystem partner organizations, ensuring every move is focused on delivering ultimate value for the business.

Above all, CFOs need to put themselves at the center of business decision making as their companies pivot to the operating models that deliver consumer relevance at scale and capture new growth opportunities in a highly complex and uncertain marketplace.

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RISK VS REWARD: IS AI TAKING OVER?

Xavier Fernandes, Analytics Director at Metapraxis

A study by Oxford University academics into “The Future of Employment” in 2013 prompted apocalyptic headlines which stated that in the future 40% of jobs will be automated thanks to advancing technology.

The researchers subsequently claimed that the truth was in fact a little more prosaic; rather than facing complete automation, the research found that 40% of jobs faced some aspect of automation in their activity. So with new ‘AI processes a likely reality for almost half us, what does that mean for our current roles and should we be worried?

 

The fourth revolution?

The first industrial revolution saw machines replacing muscle, both human and animal. The second and third saw electrical power, mass production and computerisation revolutionise the job market. Now, with daily headlines of AI as an employment superpower, there is some concern that AI is bringing a fourth revolution, and with it, unknown circumstances.

This ‘fourth industrial revolution’ is defined by replacing brain power with machines. Our thinking capacity is what inherently sets us apart from other species, so it’s not surprising that any encroachment on it triggers some existential angst.

 

Xavier Fernandes

Evolve to reap the rewards

While many businesses still don’t fully understand the capabilities of AI, those who fear its development are, instead of embracing it, missing all the benefits that it can bring to the workplace. Businesses that utilise AI appropriately are seeing vast improvements across their entire value chain; better customer experience, reduced costs, and more insightful analysis to support management decisions.

AI is particularly useful for supporting tasks with repetitive activity, for example, performing financial checks and assessing large sets of data within financial services firms. AI performs particularly well within this context, spotting outliers before a human expert would notice them, allowing impending problems to be flagged and avoiding costly mistakes.

There is also an increasing focus on maximising customer lifetime value through the use of AI. Being able to predict existing customers’ needs as well as track trends in their financial circumstances is supercharging the old cross-selling approach with testable, predictable outcomes.

With potential benefits like these on offer, management teams of innovative financial services are increasingly relying on AI to help them with some of the heavy-lifting of analysis. Using advanced data capabilities and learned behaviours, AI analyses market trends to provide predictions of future performance. This insight is invaluable and allows management teams to change direction and  correct any problems accordingly. This offers a huge advantage over those that have not adopted such tools.

 

Supporting the workplace

Algorithms and AI are typically ‘smart’ at doing one, tightly-constrained task, but they can be less helpful with many of the activities that humans find straightforward. In most white-collar jobs, automation tends to replace certain tasks in the job, rather than the role in its entirety, as the need for human intelligence is still highly necessary. In particular, we still need human input to first challenge, and then synthesise, this information before taking action. Employees should therefore work with the business to proactively identify what areas of their role could be automated, so that they can focus on the areas that add real value to the business’ commercial goals.

Challenging AI is certainly still important. We know that algorithms can be much better than humans on certain, bounded tasks. However, many algorithms rely on existing data sets to build their understanding. As a result, when a business unit has ‘symptoms’ that fall outside of that body of knowledge, the algorithm may suggest the wrong course of action with costly results.

Indeed, even with plenty of data, algorithms will reflect any biases the data set contains. We’re seeing this with some legal sentencing algorithms where there is evidence that they are treating disadvantaged people more harshly. Getting the answers to why and how far we should trust our algorithms should therefore become an everyday part of any job affected by AI.

Rather than depending entirely on AI for all decisions, workers should be taking all these new, AI-generated insights and using them to complement the human decision-making process. No manager of a complex business ever has enough time to sieve through all the analysis available, but with AI driven algorithms able to flag up any issues and indicate where action needs to be taken, we may find that we have some AI ’colleagues’ who will cover our backs and suggest innovative options. Yes, there will be times when the algorithms get it wrong, but as long as we’re watching out for those, the future is bright.

 

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HOW TECHNOLOGY IS FUTUREPROOFING STOCK MARKET TRADING

stock market

Tony Shaw, Executive Director, London Office and Head Sales UK & Ireland at the Swiss Stock Exchange

 

Markets are shifting, there’s no doubt. Amid all the disruption and volatility from the past year, the Swiss Stock Exchange asked traders about what they expected in 2020 and beyond in our industry survey. The findings point to a rise in digital to help traders content with external forces.

 

First and foremost, traders are enthusiastic about what digital assets can offer.

Two thirds of traders polled said they’d had a marked rise in interest from their clients for digital assets and crypto-products. Given the interest, traders are increasingly bullish about the potential of these products – so much so that 80% have predicted an increase in overall demand in the long term. Market users believe these assets will help generate cost synergies and streamlining trading and settlement processes by creating efficiencies and ultimately reducing costs.

Our 2019 results reflect what traders have told us when it comes to digital assets and products. Last year, we saw significantly higher trading volumes from products with crypto currencies as underlyings. Overall volumes grew by +8.5% over 2018, but the increase in crypto products alone was +17%, reaching CHF 518.2 million ($534.54 m). There was a year-on-year increase in the number of transactions, as well (+21%): 19,636 trades in total.

The potential digital assets hold is clear – evidenced by the building of the SIX Digital Exchange (SDX), a fully integrated issuance, trading, settlement and custody infrastructure for digital assets.

According to traders, artificial intelligence (AI) is expected to bring further benefits to market operations.

Two thirds of our survey respondents anticipate AI will create more opportunities for the traditional equities business, while a similar number expect it to reduce the cost of trading. Innovation in AI is already – and will continue to be – a key driver in making our industry more effective at withstanding future risks and challenges both within and beyond the market itself.

In Europe, there is growing momentum behind calls for shorter trading hours – this trend was reflected in our survey as well.

Industry groups such as the Investment Association are advocating for stock market trading hours to be cut from 8.5 to 6.5 hours to open the industry to working parents and women who cannot commit to such long workdays. We found traders were largely supportive of this, with many saying that it could even facilitate operational benefits. The roll of AI is clear here in improving efficiency while minimising time wastage: 36% of traders said the introduction of shorter trading hours would prompt greater market liquidity.

Beyond the market itself, geopolitics continue to shape wider market sentiment.

It comes as no surprise that four fifths of traders said their strategies have been – to some extent – influenced by Donald Trump’s tweets. Interestingly, only 39% of those polled viewed Brexit as an influencing factor in trading activity, while three quarters believe the US election will drive trading activity in 2020 and 65% acknowledged trade wars would also have an impact.

More broadly, traders are split on the state of the global economy – 58% are bracing for a global recession while 42% predict stable macro-economic conditions over the next three years. What seems clear is that whatever happens in the wider economy, traders are making headway with new technologies that can improve their strategy, efficiency, and overall market health.

 

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