Accounting

Manual accounting’s twilight days

AI has CFOs asking big questions about which tasks are truly menial.
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· 3 min read

Ask any CFO what excites them most about artificial intelligence, and you’ll get a similar answer: no more menial tasks and mindless data entry. But after that, try a trickier question: Which tasks are truly menial?

As finance departments start to implement AI into their workflows, this question will be debated and litigated ad nauseam. We’re just at the start, but for now, AI’s first stop in the finance department seems to fall somewhere within manual accounting tasks, according to many CFOs.

“Anything that is currently manual entry is a prime target, and I would say rightfully so…for automation,” Glenn Hopper, CFO and director at Eventus Advisory Group and author of Deep Finance: Corporate Finance in the Information Age, told CFO Brew. “Those tasks are error-prone.”

Others, like Sage’s global CTO Aaron Harris, previously told CFO Brew that any task “that’s repetitive [or] on a cycle” is a “candidate to be automated from end-to-end.” Manual accounting can’t be totally disregarded or eliminated, though.

Even if it feels like your grandfather’s bookkeeping system, the method has critical benefits for small businesses, from opportunities for error correction to affordability.

In Hopper’s mind, the conversation around menial tasks in finance should focus more on how to use AI to make data entry-heavy job positions more rewarding, rather than deciding which manual job functions to eliminate. “No one goes to school to get a degree, or a master’s, in accounting or finance with the dream of becoming a data entry expert,” Hopper said. “It makes for more rewarding work, and hopefully more job satisfaction, when you’re not lost in the drudgery of just keying in numbers.”

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Job satisfaction is an especially key piece of the AI puzzle in light of a wider skills shortage in finance. According to recruitment firm Robert Half, 89% of finance and accounting managers encountered challenges finding skilled talent in the first half of this year. And only 64% of finance teams expect to grow in 2023, per a recent study from management solutions company insightsoftware.

What’s more, any CFO that centers workers’ satisfaction in AI implementation plans will likely see benefits for that, too. Stephanie Bell, senior research scientist at Partnership on AI, previously told CFO Brew that finance leaders would be wise to use AI “in a way that helps people keep their professional identity secure” while protecting the activities “people see joy and meaning from.”

And the people who’ll know which tasks AI is best suited to assist with? “The folks who are really close to the work” typically are in the best spot to determine how new technology can aid a company’s workflow, Bell points out.

It’s up to CFOs to take proper note. “CFOs have to understand the technology landscape, because of what’s coming,” Hopper said, adding that “everyone up and down the chain of command” in a given finance department would be well-suited to learn more about AI to “upskill themselves so that they can bring this extra level of value.”

Other CFOs feel similarly. “This is a really significant management of change,” HP Inc. CFO Marie Myers told the Wall Street Journal, regarding AI. “Finance professionals like rigidity and they like structure. This disrupts everything.”


News built for finance pros

CFO Brew helps finance pros navigate their roles with insights into risk management, compliance, and strategy through our newsletter, virtual events, and digital guides.