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Will AI really reshape FP&A as much as people think?

FP&A professionals are embracing AI and technology to enhance their roles, despite challenges in implementation. As the field evolves, skills like data visualization and project management become increasingly important.

Artificial intelligence promises to transform finance the way self-driving cars seek to revolutionize transportation. The hype suggests AI will fully automate routine tasks like budget forecasts and variance analysis.

But many FP&A professionals have grown numb to claims that technology will fundamentally change their work. So how can business leaders separate AI aspiration from reality?

The truth likely lies between utopian visions of eliminating repetitive manual work and dystopian fears of widespread job losses. While AI may not radically disrupt finance overnight, it presents real opportunities to augment human analysis and devote more time to strategic priorities. The wise approach calls for patience and pragmatism – identify niche applications for emerging innovations while developing talent capable of guiding new tools toward valuable ends.

According to the 2024 AFP FP&A Benchmarking Survey, a staggering 78% of respondents have expressed their intent to enhance their knowledge and skills in technology and data over the next year. This data paints a picture of a profession that views technology, automation, and AI not as threats, but as opportunities to enrich their work lives.

The survey further unveiled an encouraging trend: companies are ramping up their support for professional development in the FP&A field. This trend is propelled by three key factors.

Firstly, FP&A has emerged from the shadows of obscurity to become a recognized, defined entity. Secondly, the demand for FP&A talent remains high, creating a competitive market for these professionals. Lastly, the need for reskilling has been recognized, acknowledging the dynamic nature of the field.

The Role of AI in FP&A

The role of AI in the transformation of FP&A jobs is anticipated to be significant. Contrary to dystopian narratives, AI is expected to augment, not replace, human workers. By embracing innovative technologies like AI to manage tasks ripe for automation, FP&A professionals can transition from being mere functionaries to strategic partners to the business.

One of the key benefits of AI in FP&A is its ability to rapidly process vast quantities of data, streamlining tasks that would otherwise take hours or days for a human analyst. This increased efficiency allows analysts to focus on more strategic tasks, drawing conclusions from the data rather than spending time processing it. With AI handling the mundane and time-consuming tasks, financial analysts can allocate their time and expertise to more value-adding activities.

Similarly, financial analysis, like any manual task, is prone to human error. However, by leveraging well-designed and properly trained AI algorithms, the margin of error can be significantly reduced. With their ability to process vast amounts of data and identify patterns, these algorithms provide a more accurate and reliable analysis that can significantly benefit financial decision-making processes. AI can serve as a powerful tool for validating and cross-checking the work of financial analysts, ensuring more robust and accurate outcomes.

Furthermore AI’s advanced capabilities give financial analysts the ability to discern intricate patterns and trends that may elude the human eye. By leveraging this power, AI can offer valuable insights beyond mere observation, enabling accurate predictions of market movements and even anticipating shifts in consumer behavior. This empowers businesses to make wise decisions and get ahead of the curve in an ever-evolving marketplace. The combination of human expertise and AI-driven predictive analytics can significantly enhance the strategic decision-making capabilities of financial analysts.

However, the implementation of AI in FP&A is not without its challenges. It requires a paradigm shift in perspective. For instance, when implementing a machine learning model for forecasting, it is crucial to view past data as if it hasn’t happened yet, a concept that may seem counterintuitive. This approach allows for the continuous training of models, ensuring they remain relevant and accurate. The focus with AI should not be on adjusting individual forecasts, but on experimenting with different input metrics and data granularity.

Overcoming Challenges: Ensuring a Successful Integration of AI in FP&A

Data Accuracy and Quality

For AI to deliver meaningful insights, it relies on accurate and high-quality data. Financial analysts must ensure that the data they provide to AI systems is accurate, complete, and relevant. Additionally, they need to be aware of potential biases or errors in the data and take appropriate actions to address them before feeding the data into the AI algorithms. Robust data governance practices and data quality controls are essential to ensure the integrity and reliability of the insights generated by AI.

Ethical Considerations and Bias Awareness

Financial analysts must navigate the ethical considerations associated with AI in FP&A. AI algorithms are trained on historical data, which can perpetuate biases if not carefully monitored. Financial analysts need to be aware of these biases and ensure that AI systems are designed and implemented in a fair and unbiased manner. This includes considering issues of fairness, transparency, privacy, and accountability when deploying AI in financial analysis and decision-making processes.

Continuous Learning and Adaptability

As AI technology continues to evolve, financial analysts must embrace continuous learning and skill development. They need to stay abreast of the latest advancements in AI, data analysis techniques, and the tools driving modern FP&A practices. This commitment to ongoing learning ensures that financial analysts can effectively leverage AI capabilities and adapt to the evolving landscape of the finance industry.

The Skills Needed for Future FP&A Jobs

As the FP&A field evolves, so too do the skills required for professionals in this area. A deep understanding of the business is as crucial for FP&A professionals as a firm grasp of the numbers.

FP&A professionals need to be adept at solving puzzles with the numbers, but they also need to understand the nuances of human behaviour and psychology when it comes to business partnering, influencing stakeholders, and communicating the financial narrative of the company.

Having an impact in the FP&A field goes beyond just creating models and reports. FP&A professionals need to be persuasive, convincing others to take their recommendations and implement changes. They also need to be inquisitive, asking the right questions to understand what truly matters to business partners beyond just dollar impacts.

Another critical skill for FP&A professionals is data visualisation. The ability to visualize information and use it to communicate and influence is becoming increasingly important. This requires assertiveness and a clear agenda, not just reporting KPIs. Project management is another skill that FP&A professionals need to develop.

While it’s relatively straightforward to get trained to execute the technical aspects of the job, executing the vision for the upcoming quarters and bringing it to fruition requires adept project management skills.

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