By Simon Martin, Director, Deloitte
Forecasting the future is a dangerous game in any sphere of life, but in finance it’s perhaps doubly so. The world is changing so fast and across so many aspects of our work that what would have seemed futuristic just a few years ago is already becoming reality. The tech revolution is here and it’s changing everything. Does that thought excite or unsettle you? For most finance leaders, it’s usually bit of both so take some comfort, you’re not alone.
At the Deloitte Private CFO Conference for Private and PE-backed businesses, we took some time to consider what the future might hold for CFOs and finance leaders.The first thing to say is that digital finance tools and technologies will reshape not only how finance functions operate but, more fundamentally, what they do. Let’s look at just a few of the areas of impact and make some predictions.
Over the course of the past few years, a whole new digital finance ecosystem has evolved, using disruptive technology, innovation and data to elevate and differentiate the capabilities of the finance function.
- Operational finance
Automated Transaction processing – Robotic Process Automation (RPA) enables leaner operations, reducing costs and redirecting resources toward analytics tools that spot trends, anticipate risks and predict opportunities in high-value areas.
- Business finance
Dynamic driver-based forecasting – cognitive computing and in-memory enables advanced planning and forecasting models to mine databases and perform real-time scenario analyses, uncovering predictive trends and generating key data insights.
- Specialised finance
Automated controls and exception-based reporting – RPA enables automation of controls while cognitive computing tools produce exception-based reporting from blockchain databases to reduce risk.
- Process and policy
End-to-end process performance – cloud platforms are leveraged ubiquitously across the enterprise providing consistency in processes.
- Organisation and people
Expert teams – finance practitioners demonstrate enhanced capabilities in the digital space, leveraging specialised financial expertise and data-driven insights to become key business partners.
- Information and systems
Finance collaboration – digital collaboration tools available on the cloud enable and support dialogue across central and local finance teams, the business and other functions, enhancing connectivity.
The direction and impact of digital finance is being driven by the evolution of a new finance toolkit, featuring a combination of modernising technologies that offer substantial but incremental improvements on current activities, and exponential technologies that offer systemic change. Modernising technologies include cloud computing, process robotics (RPA) and visualisation – the visual presentation of complex, rich data through dashboards. Of these, robotics has attracted the greatest attention and level of take up so far. RPA is the automation of transaction processing across technologies: robots or ‘bots’ take care of the recurring processes, tackling them faster and with fewer errors. Sound good? Well, their potential impact becomes even more attractive when you consider that bots work 24/7, are agnostic about ERPs, work at multiples of the speed of trained accounting technicians and they can take on a host of other systematised activities. A single bot can be the equivalent of 3–4 professionals – and they don’t take holidays or get sick! Interestingly we’re beginning to see a reversal of the outsourcing boom as companies look to bring processes back in-house to be delivered by even cheaper bots.
In the longer term though we expect that the real game-changers will be what we’re calling the exponential technologies – advanced analytics, in-memory computing, cognitive computing and blockchain. These innovations will, we believe, recast the nature and fabric of finance. At the conference, it was blockchain that most preoccupied attending CFOs and their questions largely focused on a simple but fundamental question: what is it?
There are whole books and courses about blockchain, so this isn’t the place for a detailed exploration, but, in simple terms, blockchain is a distributed ledger system in which all participants verify and store transactions on a network of connected nodes. Blockchain’s superior levels of integrity are already being used in the authentication of products as diverse as diamonds – thereby addressing the issue of blood diamonds – medical-grade zinc and chicken-meat. What makes blockchain so disruptive is the fact that it is self-validating: because any changes or irregularities in a transaction will immediately clash with the distributed ledger, it obviates the need for involvement from trusted third-party intermediaries, such as banks, securities exchanges or regulators.
The evolution of advanced analytics, cognitive and in-memory computing will enable finance leaders to benefit from better, faster insights – which they use to drive value in the businesses they support. With insights delivered in real-time by systems that can intelligently analyse and interpret huge quantities of complex data, CFOs and those around them will become more strategic, able to identify and unlock value and play an increasingly prominent role in supporting the CEO in realising business strategies. They will be able to do this safe in the knowledge that the bots are handling the transactional side of Finance.
Our 2025 predictions
So, if that’s a quick look at some of the technologies that are set to shake things up in finance, what will the world look like a few years from now, when these technologies have matured and become embedded in our activities? Taking a thematic approach, here are our eight predictions for finance by 2025:
- The Finance Factory. Transactions will be touchless as automation and blockchain reach deeper into finance operations.
- The Role of Finance. With operations automated, Finance will double down on business insights and service. This will create a capability challenge where some skill sets are no longer required and new ones enter the mix.
- Finance Cycles. Finance will go real time. Periodic reporting will no longer drive operations and decisions – if it ever did.
- Self-Service. Self-service will become the norm, as users of Finance data become able to access the information themselves. Finance may be uneasy about this.
- Operating Models. New service-delivery models will emerge as robots and algorithms join a more diverse finance workforce. Companies will assess the benefits of automation against onshore and offshore operations.
- Enterprise Resource Planning. Finance applications and microservices will challenge traditional ERP. Big vendors will be prepared though.
- Data. The proliferation of APIs will drive data standardization, but it won’t be enough by itself. Many companies will still struggle to clean up their data messes.
- Workforce and Workplace. Employees will be doing new things in new ways, some of which will make both individuals and CFOs uncomfortable.