At BlackLine’s annual InTheBlack conference last year, founder and CEO Therese Tucker defined trust as a firm belief in the reliability, strength, truth, or capability of someone – or something. By this definition, trust was not an abundant force in the accounting and finance industry in 2018.
2019 will be the year to rebuild trust in finance through digital transformation, reimagining the role of the accountant, and careful consideration of the ethical implications of AI. Here are four areas accounting and finance can focus on to ensure a successful 2019.
Develop a culture of trust – from the inside, out
According to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, trust in public companies has dropped 10% in just three years. Building trust is a top priority for CEOs in 2019, and as a result, CFOs are stressed as they face the most difficult corporate environment of their careers.
Accenture’s 2018 Duke CFO Survey found:
- 59% of CFOs worry about tripping up in the midst of a changing regulatory landscape.
- 53% doubt they can retain the talent to fulfill their promises.
- 40% have anxiety about mistakes and data security risks.
Trust is built from the bottom up. It must begin internally, with consistency and integrity, as the entire organization works toward establishing a culture of trust. Automation is the key to achieving the essential components of process reliability, transparent communication, and strong alignment throughout your company.
These internal shifts lead to external trust.
Clearsulting founder Marc Ursick says, “If I’m a shareholder or stakeholder, I want to know my company’s financial processes are in order so I can rely on the financial statements they publish. I want to be able to trust the process.”
Digital transformation is top of mind
In 2018, accounting and finance encountered ever-growing systems, data, complexity, and regulation, yielding far less time to manage it all. BlackLine Global Research found that 56% of accountants say more automation is needed just to keep up with the level of growth at their organization.
Every accountant, auditor, controller, and CFO knows that the key to finance transformation lies in process automation. New research reveals that “the accounting software market will have a global value of $11.8 billion by 2026.”
The question is no longer whether, but how, to automate.
Real-time, cloud-based process automation provides controllers with complete transparency, which is critically important. Process integration lets you standardize the functionality of automated reconciliations based on guidelines set by the accounting department, enhancing both efficiency and effectiveness.
Define a new category of accounting talent
We’ve talked about the importance of talent management throughout 2018, and this will become even more critical in the new year. Digital transformation has found its way to the top of most organizations’ agendas, and attracting and retaining the right talent for the future is the key to success.
To stay relevant, businesses need to focus on recruiting individuals who not only have sector-specific expertise but also possess the technical and soft skills required to implement new technology to support the evolution of that sector. These integrators have the potential to transform the accountant’s role and relationship with the rest of the business.
These skills are not yet available through traditional education paths, which could pose an obstacle to continued progress in accounting and finance. Or, it could create an opportunity for intelligent self-starters to seize the chance to become an expert – carving out a new role for themselves and defining a new category of accounting professional.
Consider the ethical implications of AI innovation
It’s widely accepted that automation, AI, and machine learning have the potential to transform the role of the accountant. These innovative technologies free up time and talent to be used for higher-level activities such as financial forecasting and business analysis. But, as the industry strives to become more IT-centric, pause to consider the downstream implications of these innovations.
AI has become a catch-all buzzword encompassing several different technologies. But think about what a truly intelligent, automated system could look like in finance.
One day we might develop algorithms with the capacity to make independent business decisions using real-time financial data. If one of those algorithms makes an error, who should be held accountable? The person who fed the algorithm the datasets? The software designer? The CFO? The algorithm itself? Anyone?
Clearly, these questions are still hypothetical for many organizations. Nonetheless, they highlight the potential risk that new technology could introduce to an inherently risk-averse sector.
2019 should be the year we start thinking seriously about the rules, legislation, and regulation our industry will need to survive and manage such innovation.
Commit to thrive in 2019
Change has become the new normal for accounting and finance, and 2019 will present new challenges, changes, and an even greater level of uncertainty.
To thrive, each of us needs to own our professional growth, fully understand the latest industry trends and technology, and develop a growth mindset to adapt to everything the new year has in store.
Now is the time to commit to being a driving force for developing a culture of trust at your organization, to imagine how AI will impact you, and to take steps to continually expand your skillset and redefine your role – it’s a new year!
This article originally appeared on BlackLine Magazine and is republished by permission. For more on this topic, please read “Building Trust In The Business: The New Role Of Finance.”