We’re in the midst of a revolution in the AI space. Splashy public models like OpenAI and ChatGPT are in the spotlight, bringing AI into focus where it has previously been considered a non-essential function. The move from classical AI models to advanced generative AI promises a rapid and continuing evolution that has profound implications for businesses. 

While AI’s impacts are already visible in areas like automation, its true revolutionary promise lies in enhancing strategic decision making, especially within the finance function. As this AI evolution accelerates, finance leaders at businesses and accounting firms are optimally positioned to spearhead organization-wide adoption efforts to bring better efficiency to their tech stacks and their analytics capabilities. 

The Current State of AI: Productivity at the Forefront

AI has already made significant contributions in the finance and accounting sector. Johnetta V., a fractional accountant, has found substantial value in tools that already integrate AI to better automate manual tasks. “Software that automates holds, payables and technology workflows are helpful in the back office,” she states. This automation improves efficiency, leaving finance professionals bandwidth for more important operations. 

But current and evolving AI capabilities go beyond the tactical. AI is becoming a transformative tool for research and informed decision making, and it will continue to enable the collection and connection of data for strategic planning. Chris C., a fractional CFO, envisions AI playing a role in every business, touching all functionalities. “It’s just a question to which degree and that depends on the industry. In the case of financial operations, AI will rearrange organizational structure by delivering productivity.”

The Future of AI: Strategic Finance

As businesses use AI-integrated tools to boost productivity, the shift will allow finance teams to transcend routine tasks and evolve finance roles to deliver on strategic value. 

The next step for businesses will be to leverage AI’s potential to open new revenue streams and opportunities. Essentially, AI will allow firms to practice strategic finance. “Strategic finance will become just that: strategically imagining the application of technology, which could manifest in whole new verticals and accelerate business growth,” states Chris. 

Johnetta reinforces this strategic mindset shift, stating: “It will no longer be simply ‘To which account or period does this expense belong?’, but ‘What is the quality of my earnings? What does this mean for the future?'” 

But will AI—especially generative AI—be adopted universally, especially given the costs or challenges of implementing AI? 

Eli Gill, VP of Engineering, Product and AI at Paro, thinks so. He explains: “As generative AI continues to be developed, and as it gets less and less expensive from a cost, but also from an operational perspective, models are getting more and more advanced without having to get much larger… we’re going to continue to see this continued push for generative AI everywhere.”

For Finance Leaders, AI Will Enable Broad Understanding of the Business

The role of the CFO and similar leadership is rapidly evolving from financial steward to strategic partner, a transformation poised to accelerate with AI’s rising influence. Nate Varel, former GM of Innovation at Paro, states, “I think AI is that transforming agent that will require the CFO to truly understand how the business operates through the use of generative AI.”

Generative AI allows finance leaders to practice strategic finance by “understanding customer needs, customer wants and how you go to market,” unlocking new revenue opportunities. By harmonizing AI’s technological and commercial impacts, CFOs will be equipped with hyper-personalized recommendations that touch across marketing, customer success and sales. “[The CFO] needs to truly understand the impact of AI on their business, understand what those decisions and the investment decisions are going to be,” advises Nate. 

Navigating Risk in an AI-Integrated Future

The future of AI comes with risk, and integration of AI and machine learning models is not without friction. Challenges like change resistance, standardization needs, data security and job security concerns must be navigated. CFOs’ risk averse backgrounds uniquely position them to lead this AI integration journey across the organization. Nate suggests finance leaders take a two-pronged approach: first assess industry-based security requirements, then business-specific risks. 

But the greatest step in reducing risk and increasing trust within their teams is education. Finance professionals must know the basics of their models, including how each model manipulates data to create outputs. “There is no escaping that good foundational data and drivers will result in good output,” says Chris. 

In addition, CFOs can quell resistance by leading with a human-first approach. In AI, the human feedback mechanism is critical to achieve efficacy and accuracy. “There has to be a human element driving AI,” says Eli. “There are always new shifts in the business landscape, which demand human interpretation and assessment to provide relevant and contextual answers.” Understanding this allows businesses to use AI as an augmentation for its people, rather than a replacement.

What Finance Leaders Stand to Gain

At the head of driving AI will be CFOs and finance leaders. “CFOs stand to gain a lot from the adoption of AI as they bear the financial responsibility across the organization,” says Nate. “Financially speaking, the CFO is like an air traffic controller. This is why CFOs are often at the forefront of digital transformation. The adoption of LLMs is just the newest iteration of that trend.”

The CFO’s strategic role will evolve as finance leverages AI for enhanced forecasting and planning. Chris sees improved scenario analysis as an immediate result. “Faster and better scenario analysis will enable potential outcome preparation and planning. Soon, being fluent in AI will be a good and necessary quality in a CFO.”

AI will impact performance of day-to-day CFO responsibilities like cash flow management, revenue forecasting and cost management—all of which can leverage AI capabilities for strategic purposes. In addition, AI will provide increased and improved data analysis to drive strategic decision making. 

How Can Finance Leaders Continue Pushing AI Buy-In? 

Finance leaders will play a critical role in encouraging AI integration, both in individual businesses and in the finance and accounting industry as a whole. Proactive engagement with AI capability is key. 

“The biggest action CFOs can take today is to understand the types of AI and [machine learning] models their business can use,” says Nate. Forecasting, demand planning, scenario analysis—all of these drive business strategy and operational efficiency. When CFOs understand the end-to-end process, they can leverage their risk assessment abilities to steer AI integration. 

But it’s also about getting buy-in from the company as a whole. “You need a good change management strategy—getting some internal champions and storytellers. Actually start showing people and giving people hands-on experiences of how these tools make their lives better and easier,” states Eli. In addition, leaders should have regular conversations with their teams about use cases that can improve their productivity. 

As Nate emphasizes, “There’s no better time than right now to invest in AI.” 

Lead Your Team Into the Future of AI

Partner with Paro’s AI experts to get your firm AI-ready. Our services span AI readiness roadmapping to AI forecasting and analytical tool implementation. We’ll help position your finance team at the forefront of the AI-driven future of strategic finance.

Take the first step by scheduling a consultation to explore how Paro can accelerate your firm’s AI adoption journey.