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What does the future of finance look like?

Feb. 7 2019 by Henk Pieter den Boer, Senior Manager within the Consulting practice - PwC

Performance Management Budgeting & Planning

In the former Augustinian monastery in the Belgian municipality of Oud-Turnhout, Henk Pieter den Boer (PwC) hosted a round table session on ‘the future of finance’.

Too little time for insight

What hasn't changed either is the extent to which finance professionals are engaged in collecting and processing transactions, the time they spend on reporting and compliance, and the time they use to create insights. Finance professionals still spend more than 40% of their valuable time collecting, cleaning up and connecting information. Almost half of their day is spent on boring, repetitive work that actually offers little added value. Less than a quarter of their time is spent on delivering added value in the form of business insights. “There are plenty of gains to be made,” Den Boer asserts. Reducing the time needed to collect and connect information leaves much more time for matters where finance professionals can put their expertise to good use. In fact, this could really change the finance function. To do this, organizations need to put their data foundations in order. And, just as importantly, they must want to embrace digital opportunities.

Limiting factors

It all sounds so simple, but it really isn't. According to Den Boer, the evolution of finance is being impeded by the issue of the day, by legislation, by inefficient processes, by inconsistent data, uncollaborative IT systems,missing skills, and by the many distracting activities that finance professionals have to deal with daily. Den Boer has the support of others on this as well. One visitor said that her management cannot decide on a long-term vision when it comes to IT. Investments of 400,000 euros in machinery get the green light faster than an investment of 10,000 euros in software. As a result, this finance professional still has to deal with a lot of transactional processes. “The willingness to change is important”, Den Boer stresses.

Transactional work is disappearing

It got Den Boer thinking. "Suppose it were possible for all insights to be available in real time," he says. “And suppose that real-time processing were possible. Imagine if you had the ability to continuously see all data in the system at that moment, in real time and via every imaginable device. When that data foundation is in order, whole new areas will come within reach. Consolidation, for example, is completely unnecessary when you are working with an integrated ledger. You could produce a report every day that summarizes the latest position."

Transactional work is also disappearing as a result of robotization. All kinds of repetitive work carried out by people will be taken over completely by devices in the relatively short term. Entering invoices? No longer necessary. Artificial Intelligence will recognize incoming invoices and process them without any problems. People will no longer have to spend their precious time on this.

People remain key

Robotization is not the only development. As well as robots, many other disruptive technologies, such as cloud, blockchain and real-time computing, are coming within reach. What does this mean for the finance professional? Is a different kind of professional needed? Den Boer thinks so. Whereas finance professionals now feel comfortable with the more technical aspects of their profession, Den Boer believes that technology will be a much less important part of their work in the future. "Above all, the finance professional of the future must be able to enter into a conversation and have a discussion based on this information," he says. "Alongside smart systems and intelligent support from robots, people will be a key part of the Finance Function of the Future!"

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