Home Bots & Business The role of finance has to change, and automation is the next step

The role of finance has to change, and automation is the next step

by Marco van der Hoeven

A growing number of CFOs have automation as a topic on their agenda. On the one hand the Covid-crisis forced transformation, on the other hand there is a more deep-rooted wish to perfect processes to serve the business better. But there is more to automation than just RPA as a tool; people are a key element in this, says Christopher Argent from Generation CFO in this interview with Rocking Robots.

Generation CFO started about 12 years ago as a LinkedIn group when Christopher Argent worked as a finance transformation lead in companies like John Lewis and Vodafone. He explains: “At that time there were very few accounting and finance people who were tech savvy. We were focused on the job, like reporting and compliance. I had this passion to learn more about this because as a CFO at a financial controller I had discovered a fraud that was only possible because of the manual nature of what we did. But when I started looking more closely at data and analytics I couldn’t find many people to talk to on the subject. So we set up this group on LinkedIn, and it grew really quickly to 40,000 people.”

In a community that large it is very difficult to generalize about the level; of tech-knowledge of CFO’s. “On one hand it’s the younger people who are expecting more, because they have grown up with technology. When they are coming into workplaces they are scratching their heads as to why the experience in work isn’t the same as their personal life.”

Next step

“So you could argue it’s a generational thing, but I have actually met many senior finance people and CFOs who absolutely understand the need to change, the value in using data, the value of automation. In a way it is a continuation of the shared service environment that some of them have been in, where it was all about lowering cost per transaction. Automation is the next step.”

He recognizes an acknowledgement by senior leadership that the role of finance has to change. This means they have to partner with the business better. “They have to not just be able to talk to the business, but provide data, analytics, insight. And that’s only going to happen if they can start automating their own processes, to improve what they do. The more inspired leaders are certainly curious, and leading this. They are the ones who are really trying to digitalize and transform their teams.”


CFO’s operate in a busy environment. “We have done some research throughout the COVID crisis, and you can see the agility within finance teams has been stretched hugely. In a manual, paper based environment, people were still going into the office to collect stuff to make things happen. They needed to digitize, and there’s indeed been an escalation there.”

And then there  were more sophisticated challenges, like actually running processes effectively or communicating with the business more effectively. “This had to be balanced with the need from the pandemic, to decide where to invest. There was a funding problem for the CFO, but as the growth forecasts are looking good there seems to be  cash available. Therefore in 2022 we expect acceleration in in these projects. Because automation is not an option anymore, it’s core to how the business runs.”

Intelligent automation

A step further is Intelligent Automation, including things like artificial intelligence. “Generally we have a situation where there is the marketing hype, and the opportunity that the vendors provide if you want to go on that journey. But you have to balance the hype against the reality. There’s lots of talk about end to end automation and wholesale transformation of business processes. Within the finance community I actually see more micro automation happening at the moment. Even though it’s generally accepted there’s more to gain if you do an end to end automation.”

He says a lot of questions he gets from CFO’s are about the tools they should be using. “My answer to that is: what do you want to fix? There’s a whole shop full of tools available. But are you trying to build a kitchen or a bedroom? On the one hand we are doing quite a lot of work on creating a top 100-list of vendors in the CFO, accounting and finance space. But at the same time, the tool isn’t the solution. It’s the people, the talent, and how you get people on  a learning journey.”

New role

So the profession of the CFO changes to acknowledge this new role. Part of the presentation of the digital strategy of the UK government was research that said there were 200,000 vacancies in the UK that required data skills. So we need to create awareness, and potentially create new career pathways within the profession. Before you get to the tools, try to see how they does to the business strategy. How do they relate to the organization design and structure? So right now there’s a tools and talent conversation going on at generation CFO.”

There are pitfalls to avoid on the automation journey. “In accounting and finance there’s this ethic around professional skepticism, our judgment needs to be good, from a financial point of view. And I think we need to apply that same sort of professional skepticism to project management and vendor selection in the procurement process. Don’t just jump to buying a tool.”


“The other pitfall is understanding the culture within your team. A lot of people are working in an Excel environment,  a very manual environment. And that’s fine for the moment. But if people are going to move away from that tool that is pretty much in their blood, then you’ve got to address the change management. You’ve got to address the adoption of new tools. There’s lots of cliches in this area, like winning hearts and minds, but it is important that you talk to your team, and take the team on a journey with you. Our culture and our attitude towards robots is unfortunately slightly negative. We still hear about redundancy risk, and I think that’s massively misunderstood. Overall, more jobs are being created with automation.”


Discover here how you can start talking about automation, building your awareness of what automation is and specifically how it will impact the CFO and the accounting and finance profession

Misschien vind je deze berichten ook interessant