CFRI 2016

Fusion Revolution Will Upend Finance

The finance job you have in five years will not resemble the finance job you have now, says the Deloitte CEO.

Deloitte CEO Cathy Engelbert speaking at CFRI 2016

Rapid technological change — including the use of artificial intelligence, machine learning and data management – will upend the audit profession and the finance suite to the point that it will likely be unrecognizable in as little as five years, says Deloitte LLP CEO Cathy Engelbert.

But despite the complete disruption of the industry, professional judgement will remain at the core of audit and finance.

“I think that in the next five or six years the accounting and auditing profession will change more than they have in the last fifty, certainly the last thirty since I’ve been here,” Engelbert said during the opening keynote of Financial Executive International’s Current Financial Reporting Issues Conference (CFRI) on Monday. “The one thing I wanted to make clear is I still believe the professional judgement and expertise that you all do in your daily lives and as a long time auditor I did is not replaceable necessarily by machines. I’ve never met a machine with courage. Never met a machine with empathy. Never met a machine that could necessarily read body language and adjust what they say.”

Engelbert explained that the “Fusion Revolution,” which includes the fusion of physical, biological and digital worlds and prompted by technological advancement, is creating rapid change in industries and the finance staffs that support them. Rapidly growing companies such as Uber and Airbnb are becoming a “platform” with a laser focus on harnessing data.

That means that finance staffs will also need to understand and manipulate that data in new ways, including using artificial intelligence to augment human work.

While that may translate into consolidation, it also means that finance professionals have the opportunity to think about their profession in new ways. The Deloitte CEO explained that automation in finance will augment what humans provide while removing the “manual work tasks” and allow finance professionals to do more interesting, more intellectual and more qualitative planning that requires human interaction.

“Because we’re so exhausted by the time we do the transaction based work we’re doing in our financial reporting lives and closing the books that we have little time — or really little energy — to focus on the insights we can provide and the questions we can ask based off finance being that central hub for data for so many places,” Engelbert explained “I really see that as transformation and those who are able to harness that data and use it will be more valuable and meaningful to the business side.”

The rapid change in the audit and finance industry will also have another benefit, according to Engelbert: Enticing students to pursue the industry as an academic and career choice

“Clearly all the firms are investing heavily in innovation transforming their audit businesses,” Engelbert said. “We use a lot of the tools and technologies that you all have at your fingertips to drive the audit of the future. This will create a profession that our young people coming out of university will aspire to be in and stay in.”