Business adoption of artificial technology tools such as ChatGPT isn’t likely to make CFOs unnecessary in the near or even distant future, according to finance tech experts.
Any notion that finance roles, especially at the senior level, can be completely automated is highly improbable, the experts told CFO Dive.
“Can AI execute tasks that people can do now? Absolutely,” said Mark McDonald, a senior director - analyst at Gartner who specializes in the application of advanced AI technologies to financial processes. “But I’m reluctant to say it’s coming for your job. I think that’s overblown.”
Financial forecasting and contract management are areas where AI has the potential to transform corporate finance work, McDonald said. “We might not have as many people doing the same things, but we still need people to be somehow responsible for the tasks that we’ve set up today,” he said.
ChatGPT, an AI-driven natural language processing tool created by Microsoft-backed OpenAI, has captured public attention in recent months. The tool can help with tasks such as drafting reports and emails, answering complex questions, and even writing software code.
“If you’re a CFO trying to put together remarks for your next quarterly earnings call, maybe it’s a faster way to get to that first draft,” said Michael Chui, a partner at the McKinsey Global Institute who leads research on the impact of disruptive technologies on businesses and the economy. “That doesn’t mean that somebody in a CFO role goes away.”
Despite its popularity, the technology is also prompting concerns and sparking a national debate about the potential risks of AI-driven automation.
In late March, a group of more than 1,000 AI and technology experts published an open letter calling for all AI labs to immediately pause the training of AI systems to better assess the risks of deploying the technology at scale, including in the workplace, as previously reported by Industry Dive sister publication CIO Dive. Some of the participants were prominent voices in the technology space, including Twitter CEO Elon Musk, who co-founded OpenAI.
A recent Goldman Sachs study estimates, using data on occupational tasks in both the U.S. and Europe, that generative AI technologies such as ChatGPT could automate up to one-fourth of current work in the future. The business and financial operations job category is among the top five areas that could be impacted, according to the research.
“The good news is that worker displacement from automation has historically been offset by creation of new jobs, and the emergence of new occupations following technological innovations accounts for the vast majority of long-run employment growth,” the authors wrote.
Many jobs, particularly leadership roles like the CFO, entail a variety of everyday tasks that would be difficult — if not impossible — for a machine to completely replace, according to Chui. “It’s very rare that one technology is going to show up and then suddenly everything that anybody does is going to be automated by that technology,” he said.
A CFO role in particular can involve everything from taking part in quarterly earnings calls to reviewing the daily results coming out of business units and interfacing with the CEO and others in senior management, he said.
With the introduction of AI, some roles in the corporate finance department may look different, but they won’t completely disappear, according to McDonald.
“Let’s take a financial analyst for example,” he said. “Instead of doing a lot of guessing and digging through a bunch of numbers to come up with some future revenue figure, what that person will be doing is training and using algorithms to do that task for them. And because they won’t be spending so much time on that, they’ll be able to do other things as well.”
Data entry will look very different as well, McDonald said. “Picking up a piece of paper and typing numbers onto a keyboard — probably not going to happen,” he said. “Instead, you’ll scan a piece of paper, and an algorithm will pick the numbers out and put them in the right place for you. But you’ll still need to have somebody who can double check to make sure the data is clean and the algorithm is not being trained with garbage data. Somebody needs to nurse the process.”
A growing number of companies are beginning to offer ChatGPT-style tools tailored to finance teams. Software provider Datarails, for example, is testing out an AI-enable financial planning and analysis platform, as previously reported by CFO Dive.
Still, while AI can help with tasks such as generating forecasts or ensuring that financial statements are produced in a timely fashion, a human being ultimately must be held accountable for the results, McDonald said. “If the AI breaks and says something wrong, a regulator is not going to fine the algorithm,” he said.