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Will the age of AI see finance staff lose their job?

Tracy Luo - 21/05/2018
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At the just-concluded 2018 Chinese Finance Leaders Leading-Edge Summit, change has become the focus of attention. Actually, what remains unchanged is change itself. From the industrial revolution to the information technology revolution, the updating of technology has accelerated, exerting a great impact on our work and life, and bringing to us more anxiety.

On 18 October 2017, Google's artificial intelligence laboratory published its latest research progress in Nature. The new generation of AlphaGo Zero, just like a human beginner, defeated AlphaGo, the one that had defeated Lee Se-dol and Ke Jie, at 100-0 after three days of learning about the basic rules of the game and its ultimate goal. That means the robots have an ability to learn.

This year, two voice AI robots of Facebook’s AI Lab used languages that humans can't understand while chatting. Raymond Kurzweil, an American futurist, put forward a "singularity" theory ten years ago. According to his theory, the year 2045 will be a turning point, where the evolution of artificial intelligence will be faster than that of biological intelligence, posing a great threat to humans.

AI is heading in predicatable and unpredictable directions. Whether it will turn out to be a false alarm, as we had experienced in the industrial revolution and the information technology revolution which had witnessed how we recovered from the panic, or this round of AI will be a terminator of the human race, remains a question of which none of us can offer a reliable prediction.

China has more than 20 million accounting cardholders, and more than 50% of them are engaged in the most basic work such as financial processing, billing, bookkeeping and media coverage, and they are very likely to be replaced by robots. In such a context, how shall financial staff prepare themselves, improve their skills, position themselves, and adapt themselves to the technological change?

At the summit, attendees discussed and shared the following by centering around the impact of AI on financial change.

What daily jobs of a financial staff have been affected by AI?

Mr. Wang Xiaoqing, the co-founder and chief financial officer of Xencio, pointed out that, at present and in the near future, AI for financial work is and will continue to remain in the stage of automation or weak artificial intelligence, or the intelligence in a single domain, as he shared his views at “Artificial Intelligence in Enterprise Capital Management”.

Deloitte, PWC, Ernst & Young and KPMG all launched financial robots in 2017. Also, Xencio has rolled out fund management platform, JD.COM has unveiled "Internet + tax" electronic invoice innovation platform, and Tradeshift has released the automated full process platform. All these intelligent tools have greatly raised the work efficiency of the corresponding process. It is clear that highly repetitive, manual work in financial area, such as data entry, data screening, data summary and output, comprehensive sampling in audit area, and invoice processing, will certainly be taken over by robots.

With the improvement of big data and increase of intelligence in financial tools, quantitative analysis of various business indicators, forecasting, risk monitoring and other work can all be done by robots. In other words, it is likely that some seemingly complex financial jobs like analysis, prediction, and risk control can be taken over by robots.

Deloitte’s financial robots show skills in financial settlement perio

TABLE 2

Will AI take over all the jobs of the financial staff?

Though the summit was heavy with a mood of anxiety and worry, the mainstream view holds that it is unlikely for AI to take over all the jobs of the financial staff.

Most people thinks that AI is based on big data and is a product of logic and structured thinkings. However, AI is unable to think as human does in a non-structured manner, even if AI can integrate financial processes and business processes in terms of data and algorithm, because the commercial society is complex, changeable and innovative. That is, AI cannot form judgment or make decisions on the “grey zone”, which means it can never take over the job of formulating strategies or making decisions done by financial staff as business partners.

AI is a thing created by man and controlled by man, and it cannot take the place of perceptual part of biological intelligence. Human beings are characterized by rich thoughts and spirits, unpredictable, complex psychological activities, and lively and diverse communication methods. It can be concluded that AI cannot substitue for humans. Therefore, negotiation, communication, and project management performed by financial staff as part of the business operation will not be taken over by robots. A CEO kidded at the summit that humans and ants are still living together on earth, despite the fact that man is much cleverer and evolve at a faster speed. He said that if human beings fail to control AI, it will be pointless to discuss whether financial work can be all taken over by AI. And the issue might become a problem to make sense at a moral level. The joke is telling some truth.

How should financial staff improve their skills, position themselves and adapt themselves to the technological change?

Though we are concerned about AI and discuss some issues, what will happen to us is just like an American science fiction film. That is, no one can tell when and to what degree AI will affect financial staff. Still, such concern and discussion play an active role in promoting them to improve their skills and prepare themselves well for the future. So, it is advisable to work on their skills than to worry about the future, and by doing so what they fear might come more slowly.

  1. To grow themselves into a business partner who knows to look at the bigger picture and help with decision-making. While a robot can do repetitive work more quickly, men can think, analyze and study, and they can contribute to wise decision-making by interpreting data and information based on their experience.
     
  2.  To grow into talents with cross-domain knowledge. There is no doubt that an expert in a single filed, such as those who knows only accounting or fund management, is more vulnerable in the face of AI, than those with cross-section knowledge, such as a CFO with a good knowledge about M&A, or a CFO knowing about capital market operation. Knowing different business models, different project processes also help to improve their one’s irreplaceability.
     
  3. To grow into an innovative financial talent. In the near future, the evolution and iteration of artificial intelligence will still be driven by human efforts. Financial talents with innovative thinking understand how to update financial policies and procedures, how to apply new technology. In brief, financial talents who know how to work more effectively with AI will become a more competitive rival of robots.

Ms. Wu Jing, head of the finance and taxation innovation department of JD Goup, said that in the future robots will join the human labor force, and that data analysis will see real-time updating in the cloud. By 2020, various intelligent tools will flood in to become a commonly used tool, just like the Office software. A future work scenario may see a shift from robots acting as an assistant to a partner.

Associate Director | Finance & Accounting Recruitment
+86 21 2287 3126
tluo@morganmckinley.com