From self-driving cars to surgical robotics, artificial intelligence (AI) continues to push the boundaries of human capability. Few sectors have embraced the possibilities of AI more than finance, where quantitative decision-making paired with large volumes of data have borne algorithms that can cut trades, prevent credit card declines, approve payments, and much more.
The potential benefits of AI in finance are endless, from dramatic time savings and increasing productivity to elevating the roles of finance leaders and employees. With AI at their fingertips, CFOs can steer their finance teams into a brighter, smarter future
Save time, money…and headaches
As AI matures, it will continue to handle more and more financial tasks. Today, nowhere is AI’s impact more dramatic than in our accounts payable (AP) departments, where intelligent algorithms are already executing accounting decisions without a single human touch.
From the smallest accounting firms to the largest corporate enterprises, all businesses wrestle with tedious, repetitive, and manually-intensive tasks – and few are more mind-numbing than invoice processing. From reading invoices in all types of formats, to manually entering data, to chasing down approvers, AP departments are plagued by inefficiencies.
With this in mind, AP teams have made a concerted effort in recent years to digitize their processes. However, these automated solutions are usually too rigid – meaning they still require heavy human intervention throughout the invoice lifecycle.
In contrast to rigid automation, AI can achieve true autonomy – no humans are required. In fact, today’s AI – which can be up to 99% accurate – has already been proven to cut invoice processing time by up to 80% from the current best in class. This translates to enormous staffing and cost efficiencies.
“[AI] solves a labor problem by dramatically reducing the time required to process and approve invoices,” said David Bier, the Chief Operating Officer of Anglin Reichmann Armstrong, which was recently honored on Forbes’ list of America's Best Tax and Accounts Firms in 2021.
“[With AI,] we are on track to save more than 25,000 hours per year by automating away manual invoice processing,” echoed the Application Management Lead at the leading real estate company in the Nordics.
These resource efficiencies are significant – and they are only the beginning of what AI can achieve.
Solve problems, faster
Finance departments deploying AI solutions are seeing many other significant benefits from their investments, including streamlining the approval process, reducing costly errors, deriving information from financial transactions in real-time, and gaining valuable insights into their accounting team’s performance.
Prior to using AI, for example, AP teams had little intel and no real way to analyze certain discrepancies, such as invoice processing slowdowns or overtime pay spikes. Guessing the causes of accounting discrepancies made these teams reactive – often too late to solve the underlying issue once the books were closed. In contrast, AI solutions can identify issues in real-time – pinpointing bottlenecks contributing to late payments, gaining insights into spend data, and identifying buying patterns, irregularities, and cost improvement opportunities.
“[AI] it streamlines the AP process, dramatically improves accuracy, and saves time all across the AP process,” said Bier. “The autonomous and custom approval flow process has increased visibility into expenses, and is not only easy for users but saves substantial time for those that approve invoices. The learning from the AI has improved the accuracy and consistency of coding, eliminates duplicate invoices, frees up a significant amount of time for those processing AP.”
The previously mentioned real estate company was also able to now see under the hood of their invoice processing operation and run diagnostics to help their AP staff thrive. For example, the company found that some users were reviewing invoices over and over again, even though they had been coded by the AI or another person. Once the AP managers addressed the issue and encouraged the necessary behavior change, their team wasted less time reviewing invoices, dramatically reducing processing and approval times.
Elevate the finance department
Indeed, AI has proved to enhance the lives of finance professionals at every rung of the career ladder. Accountants and clerks who were once bogged down in manual tasks can instead flex into higher-level responsibilities, from negotiating with vendors to maximizing data for forecasting.
“Many companies face labor challenges and [AI] has allowed them to replace an AP clerk that has retired or repurposes an office manager to focus on responsibilities outside of processing invoices,” said Bier.
Not only is this shift more valuable to the business, but it is also more valuable to employees, as they are inspired to augment their skills and set themselves on new trajectories of career growth. As companies face unprecedented employee retention challenges, AI’s positive impact on job satisfaction is more valuable than ever before.
And CFOs are reaping these benefits, as well. While AI is generally focused on spot tasks today, it is quickly growing into more high-level areas, from data-driven forecasting to reducing vulnerabilities and fraud. And in the not-too-distant future, AI will work across a business’s entire suite of apps and technologies – enabling cross-functional planning and analysis, empowering finance leaders to identify and recommend actions, and elevating the role of CFO to that of a collaborative advisor across the entire organization.
The future of AI is here
Armed with AI, finance leaders are already transforming their organizations – reducing headcount, bolstering security, eliminating costly errors, and shifting to a more proactive profit center. And it won’t be long before AI helps CFOs capture even more value – empowering them to work collaboratively across functions and make strategic, data-driven decisions that will benefit their business’s growth and sustainability. It’s time for CFOs to embrace AI and all the benefits it has to offer – for themselves, for their teams, and for their businesses.