BlackLine Blog

July 09, 2024

Artificial Intelligence: Redefining the Future of Finance & Accounting

Industry Priorities & Trends
4 Minute Read

Hilary O'Brien

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A History of Innovation at BlackLine

Since our inception, BlackLine has been pioneering the development of intelligent solutions for process innovation. Today, artificial intelligence (AI) is central to our strategy for continuous, customer-centric innovation.

Despite AI's transformative potential, many industries, including finance and accounting (F&A), are still exploring its capabilities. At BlackLine, we're focused on integrating AI to enhance productivity without creating undue distraction or job insecurity.

Our approach prioritizes understanding our customers' specific needs and challenges. Rather than hastily deploying AI for the sake of novelty, we’re tailoring solutions that truly benefit you and your organization, distinguishing us both now and in the future.

BlackLine Founder and Co-CEO Therese Tucker noted in a recent keynote at BeyondTheBlack London, “We are starting to embed AI in a number of places in our solutions …  taken together, you can get massive amounts of productivity.”

This philosophy aligns with recent insights from Ventana Research, emphasizing the incremental productivity gains from targeted AI applications within existing frameworks. This approach builds trust in AI's feasibility and value.

Ventana analyst Robert Kugel explains, “Productivity by a thousand cuts means that these initial, relatively simple applications are likely to produce an underappreciated boost to productivity. They will be successful because of their focus, meaning they will be built to work well in existing IT environments. Their usefulness will prove AI’s feasibility and value, a key part of building trust in utilizing this technology.” 

Cheri Hewlett, Global Business Leader - Consolidations & Financial Analytics at BlackLine, underscores our commitment to demystifying AI: “Our approach takes some of the fear out of AI. It's not a robot that's taking over my job. It's taking some of the grunt work away. It's making you a little more productive. Things go a little faster. And as we do that throughout our entire platform, you will see those benefits pile up.”

Let’s look at how BlackLine envisions AI helping the Office of the CFO.

Transform Data into Insights

F&A teams grapple with vast, diverse, unstructured data, presenting opportunities and challenges. While this data holds potential for strategic decision-making and innovation, its sheer volume and complexity can be overwhelming.

AI tools offer a solution by normalizing and standardizing data, expediting processing workflows, and enabling F&A teams to extract actionable insights. 

As George Johnston, a partner at Deloitte, highlighted at a Titanium Sponsor Panel at BeyondTheBlack London, AI empowers rapid analysis of large datasets and supports quick scenario planning, revolutionizing decision-making processes. “One of the spaces, from an AI perspective, is around being able to do rapid analysis of large volumes of data, quick scenario planning, and multiple scenario planning as well in parallel, which is just transformative.”

Predictive Analytics: Shaping the Future

AI's ability to analyze historical financial data is reshaping how organizations predict future trends. Predictive analytics models scrutinize past performance to forecast market movements, cash flow requirements, and potential revenue growth. This forward-looking capability allows companies to plan and adjust strategies to maintain competitiveness proactively.

Rapid Data Analysis and Scenario Planning

AI's transformative impact in finance includes its capacity for swift analysis of extensive datasets. Leveraging machine learning, organizations can simultaneously explore multiple scenario plans, facilitating agile decision-making. This capability goes beyond data handling to deliver timely and precise insights.

Bridging the Gap Between Data and Insight

Johnston continues, “One of the things that I’ve seen significantly over the last number of years is a frustration within my client's finance communities where they feel they're spending way too much time manipulating data and trying to get it into the right shape before they can produce the insight.”

AI promises to reverse this trend by automating data preparation and enhancing analytical capabilities. This shift empowers finance teams to focus on delivering impactful insights that drive business success. By harnessing AI, F&A teams can effectively leverage data to foster innovation and strategic growth.

Automate Repetitive Work

F&A professionals have long embraced automation to streamline operations. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) employs bots to automate tasks like data entry, invoice processing, and reconciliations within systems such as Excel. Machine Learning (ML) algorithms further enhance efficiency by predicting outcomes, optimizing resource allocation, and detecting anomalies in financial transactions.

Now, AI introduces intelligent automation, marking a transformative shift for the industry.

Automated Reporting: Streamlined Efficiency

Generating financial reports traditionally involves labor-intensive data collection and analysis. AI simplifies this with automated reporting, condensing complex data into clear, accurate insights. This saves time and enhances precision, allowing finance professionals to focus on strategic initiatives.

Automated Data Entry and Cleansing

AI-powered tools automate data extraction from documents like invoices and financial statements, minimizing manual input. Algorithms also clean and standardize data by identifying inconsistencies, removing duplicates, and filling gaps, ensuring data integrity.

Personalization for Stakeholders

AI enables personalized financial data interactions tailored to investors and internal stakeholders. Whether generating reports for management tiers or customizing insights based on user personas, AI optimizes information delivery, enhancing decision-making and engagement.

Johnston notes, “If you've got the same data set, you want different reports for middle management, top management, and transactional staff. Now, you can get AI to generate three different types of reports based on personas and different types of formats given the right prompts. And that really starts to take some time out for finance functions to do something more effective.”

Strengthen Risk Management

AI is a valuable tool for finance and accounting professionals to address compliance and risk management challenges effectively.

Analyzing historical data patterns allows AI models to detect anomalies such as errors, fraud, or unusual financial behaviors. This capability enhances data accuracy and reliability, provides F&A professionals with confidence in their analyses, bolsters security, and mitigates financial losses.

AI automates regulatory compliance tasks critical in an industry governed by complex and evolving regulations. AI models interpret and implement compliance measures efficiently by continuously monitoring updates and leveraging historical compliance data and regulatory texts. This proactive approach minimizes the risk of non-compliance and associated penalties.

AI evaluates credit risks by analyzing customer data, predicting defaults, and facilitating informed lending and investment decisions. Incorporating AI enhances operational efficiency and fortifies organizations against legal and regulatory challenges, ensuring proactive management of risks and unexpected events in the financial environment.

AI for the Office of the CFO

Don’t get left behind—it's time to understand what AI can do for the Office of the CFO.

AI can be a transformative tool in finance and accounting, revolutionizing data analysis and decision-making. Organizations leveraging AI can significantly enhance accuracy, efficiency, and competitiveness in the financial landscape.

However, implementing AI requires a strategic approach, balancing technological advancements with organizational readiness. Despite challenges like data privacy, legacy system integration, and ethical considerations, the Office of the CFO sees clear benefits from AI. 

BlackLine leadership in core financial practices and advanced AI capabilities offer indispensable solutions for CFOs and their teams. Embracing AI empowers F&A teams to leverage cohesive datasets for agile decision-making and sustainable growth in the digital era.

As Therese Tucker notes: “Financial automation technology is now a necessity for F&A departments, and businesses are excited and optimistic about how technology like AI can further streamline processes and augment existing systems. While there is understandable apprehension in the adoption of emerging technologies, therein also lies a valuable opportunity for F&A leaders to enable the upskilling of their teams through automation.”


F&A Industry Optimistic About the Use of AI

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About the Author


Hilary O'Brien