With the rise of automation, how will the CFOs of tomorrow be trained?

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The pace of automation does not appear to be slowing. In fact, if events at the World Economic Forum in Davos are anything to go by, it’s accelerating.

And with that acceleration there is a shift in emphasis. There’s general acceptance that the world is now experiencing the fourth industrial revolution. We see it in our everyday lives, with our personal technology, in retail and in our work. The emphasis is now on what consequences automation is having and will continue to have for both companies and for individuals.

Some of the consequences for individuals have, quite rightly, been a central focus to public debate in recent years, and one of the central focuses here at Davos is the need for increased investment in training in technology. This is not only to train a workforce equipped to meet the demands for increasingly technical jobs, but also to address the social isolation of those who are not currently using technology; to reach those who are yet to enjoy the benefits of the digital economy.

For an accountant, whether for good or bad, various functions of their day-to-day workload have gradually being subsumed by technology. I attended two events earlier today that made me reflect on new implications of this trend and the way in which we work. It made me ask myself how chief financial officers of the future are supposed to exercise their core functions, when technology is now fulfilling core accounting functions. Consider the typical route for a chief financial officer: starting in a junior auditing role, progressively working their way up through a firm, becoming a partner, and then finally reaching chief financial officer. Consider as well the years of experience they will have gained before they start managing the financial risks and ultimate management of their firms’ finances.

How will chief financial officers be in a position to exercise this oversight, if they’ve never had to exercise this function for a client? Education is worth a great deal, but can it ever replace experience? There’s no clear answer, but it’s unlikely that machines will ever be able to replace human judgment.

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