Technology continues to change how companies manage their finance function, and most executives are fully aware—and supportive—of tech’s role within their organizations. But precisely what benefits does technology bring today, how will this change in coming years and in what ways will tech influence the next generation of finance professionals?
These questions were at the heart of Forbes Insights’ May-June 2021 survey of 250 senior U.S. finance executives, performed in conjunction with KPMG LLP. The executives represent all major sectors and work at organizations posting at least $1 billion in global revenue for the most recent fiscal year. We also spoke with several leaders at KPMG to lend greater context to the data.
What do executives expect from their technology?
“Companies are constantly looking for greater insights related to their business,” says Heather Paquette, national technology assurance leader, KPMG. “Leveraging smart analytics and artificial intelligence gives them those insights, both to generate business value and make financial decisions.”
Smart analytics and artificial intelligence—throw in cloud computing, and you’ve got what might be considered the Dream Team of finance technology. Edge computing, blockchain and automation technologies, such as robotic process automation (RPA) and business process automation (BPA), are also playing important roles.
Which solutions will achieve mainstream adoption in the industry the soonest, and how will expectations change as a result?
Which Technologies—And Why
As the survey demonstrates, finance executives are well aware that artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies are being used in their industry. And since it’s as expensive as it is powerful, the latest finance tech must justify itself practically.
The most obvious benefit for executives is getting better insights through more nuanced data. As Scott Flynn, KPMG’s vice chair, Audit, says, “In the conversations I have with C-suite executives … that’s the thing they’re looking for: the insights that the data is able to identify.”
In terms of specific must-haves for their internal finance functions right now, most executives pointed to cloud computing and storage (74%); smart analytics, including data extraction and transformation and data visualization (62%); and artificial intelligence, which includes machine learning and natural language processing (56%).
Most executives expect BPA (43%), process mining technology (42%) and RPA (48%) to be required finance capabilities within two years.
“Robotic process automation is undervalued at this time,” Paquette says. “It should be higher on executives’ radars.”
Many executives expect blockchain (51%) and edge computing (36%) to become important internal tools within five years—but no sooner than three.
Internal Functions Versus External Auditors
For most business leaders, internal reporting is just one facet of the finance function. The role of the external auditor is often just as important, as is that auditor’s use of the latest digital tools.
Nearly all executives (98%) said their external firm uses advanced technology in the audit process, and most agree this improves the quality of the audit (98%). (This represents a marked change from just three years ago, when 74% of executives noted the use of advanced tech by external auditors. Digging deeper, just 26% of executives in 2018 considered artificial intelligence a must-have for outside firms; today that figure is 61%.)