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Episode 32: Are You Future-Ready? Say Hello to Autonomous Finance

Rohit Gupta Rohit Gupta

CFO

inFeedo

Madhurima Gupta Madhurima Gupta

Associate Director- Product Marketing

HighRadius

Available on

Synopsis:

Autonomous finance technology involves using a combination of AI, RPA, OCR, and other features to power ‘self-driving’ finance operations. Recently, its implementation has become simpler and more convenient for companies. In this episode of CFO Circle, we will discuss autonomous finance and why it is crucial for the next-gen of CFOs.

Transcript:

Madhurima Gupta:
Hi, welcome to CFO Circle Podcast. I’m your host, Madhurima Gupta. And today I have with me, Rohit Gupta. He’s a finance leader who comes with over 18 years of experience. He’s currently the chief financial officer of Infeedo, Asia’s leading employee experience platform that helps engage employees, predict attrition, and answer FAQs with conversational AI. His area of expertise lies in SaaS reporting, revenue operations, and financial accounting and reporting. He is also a pro when it comes to financial planning and analysis, mergers and acquisitions and tax and treasury-related functions. So welcome to this show Rohit. How are you doing?

Rohit Gupta:
Thank you, Madhurima, for a lovely introduction. I’m doing great.

Madhurima Gupta:
It’s so good to, you know, finally get time with you and record this podcast and I’m looking forward to learn new things from you today. So today the topic that we wanted to discuss Rohit is the future of CFO’s office and whether it is autonomous or not, right, and before we get started with the, you know, my questions for you, you know, I, I wanted to kind of set context here. A few technological advancements capture the imagination of the public, like, you know, autonomous vehicles, right? So Tesla’s there and you know, everybody talks about it. People are also using it, You know, it’s easy to understand the broader appeal of self-driving cars operating without any need for human intervention potentially boosting safety and productivity and curbing energy consumption as well. Now, if you imagine the same for implementing a solution using a complex technology that could help businesses manage their finances better and spend more efficiently, when it comes to CFO office it is autonomous finance operations. So, you know, in this episode, we want to understand what your opinion is when it comes to autonomous finance and if and why it is the future of CFO’s office. Right? So we’d like to hear a little more about your background and journey as a finance leader from yourself. So, could you tell us a little bit more about what you’re doing currently, how your growth is when, etc?

Rohit Gupta:
Yeah. Well, you already gave a nice introduction, so I don’t need to add anything extra, but I’ll try to see if I can put icing on the cake. Well, I’m a chartered accountant by qualification. I have about 18 plus plus years of corporate experience, worked with MNCs like IBM, Citrix, Ultimate Kronos Group before starting my startup journey with BlueJeans, which is a competitor to Zoom. And I was with signup for a couple of years. Most recently. Obviously, as you mentioned, I’m I’m the CFO at Infeedo, Asia’s leading employee experience platform, and I lead the finance revenue operations and the partnership functions for Infeedo. That’s in a nutshell my growth journey in the last 18-plus years.

Madhurima Gupta:
So, you know, now we’ll jump to the topic for the day. So what is autonomous finance to you, and why should it be on every CFO’s mind?

Rohit Gupta:
Well the way I look at autonomous finance is that in an autonomous finance generally the process, the tasks are governed and majority of them are carried out by self-learning software agents. And that helps you to optimize your finance operations so that you can think strategic and work on strategic initiatives rather than transactional finance, right? But I think it has a huge potential to contribute to strategic finance as well. And we’ll probably talk about it later in the podcast, in terms of why it should be in every CFO’s mind, well, I always believe that we always term ourselves as CFO, whether it is chief fun officer or chief financial officer, time will tell, but if we want fun, then autonomous finance is a way in which we can achieve that right. See, as CFOs, we want to deliver valuable insights to the business leaders which enables faster, more accurate and informed decision-making. Right. Today, unfortunately, system tools and expertise are there, but they all work in silo environments. They don’t talk to each other, making it very, very difficult to consolidate and look at the entire gambit of things. So I think autonomous finance enables, helps us to make that connection where business problems are connected to the data sources, and we are able to derive actionable insights, which can help us take more informed and better decisions.

Madhurima Gupta:
Absolutely. this one thing that comes to my mind when we are talking about, you know, acceptance of autonomous finance and, you know, using finance as a more strategic function than what it has been you know, over the last few decades. So, you know, the core of many processes are even today fundamentally unchanged from, you know, decades ago in spite of introduction of different automation software that can help manage repetitive and basic tasks. How do you think hot autonomous finance can change this, and how can people’s mindset change when it comes to it

Rohit Gupta:
To begin with? It’s a little complex for any startup to implement, right? In matured companies, at least, there are a lot of repetitive processes. There’s a lot of people doing the same thing in the same way. There is a lot of documentation which is available, which generally focuses on how to do things rather than why you are doing things, right. So I think, think of it as Google Maps, right, now, when you are trying, trying to drive and get to a location, Google Maps, maps help you to navigate not only the shortest possible route, but let’s say if there are hot spots in terms of a traffic congestion and everything, it gives you alternate routing that in absence of autonomous finance, if you have to do and apply the same logic while doing a task it it, you are lost, right? Because if there are hotspots which you will encounter in the way those are hidden, and you’ll not be able to solve them effectively when when the situation comes, and I think autonomous finance helps you in navigating that, not only does it tell you what to do, but a better way to do that, right? Because it is analyzing lot of data points to understand what is the best way to do a simple, repetitive task.

Madhurima Gupta:
Understood. And you know, generally CFOs are excited when it comes to learning about autonomous finance and what all it’s capable of delivering. But they’re quick to weigh in that it may not work for their organization. And it could be because of multiple reasons. One of the reasons would be budget because it is often felt that investing in technology like this could be expensive and may, I mean whether they should spend so much money on the finance function at all. What would you say to those CFOs who are hesitant to invest in finance process optimization?

Rohit Gupta:
Well, I think not only finance, but I think every support function for that matter is, is hesitant to spend money on, especially the technology and tools due to budget constraints, right? As a CFO, obviously we have to run a capital-efficient business and we have to maintain a balance between different areas of business, which demands investment. But I think the benefit of investing in autonomous finance is immense especially when you are looking at long-term spectrum, right? So I’ll urge my fellow CFOs to look at the benefits that they can derive from a long-term perspective and decide accordingly. But I think if we don’t invest in autonomous finance, it’s a matter of time that we will have to play a catch-up game. And believe me, as a CFO, you want to be more strategic rather than playing a catch-up game with tools and technologies.

Madhurima Gupta:
Absolutely. I totally agree with you there. I think one of the other significant barriers to autonomous finance at CFO’s office is lack of proper data environment. And this is something that even we at HighRadius have, you know, often come across when we are doing our demos and while we are even implementing, you know, HighRadius solutions for our or newly onboarded customers. Right. Do you think CFOs should wait for setting up data, you know, in a proper environment? Or do you think CFOs can never be ready with proper data environment?

Rohit Gupta:
I personally believe that data environment is critical, super critical to derive a longer term benefit, right? Because when we are talking about strategic finance, you need a proper data environment, right? You need systems in place, tools in place only, then autonomous finance magic will begin to a full extent. But that does not mean that we necessarily need to wait for every tool and system to be in place. The majority of the companies, if you ask me, have their basic accounting, billing and basic tools and data set up done. And I believe there are processes like order to cash, procure to pay, even if you look at some of the low-hanging cases like vendor registration, customer registration, I think these are the, some of the tasks or processes where we can leverage AI enabled task mining or process mining and kickstart these initiatives. Right. I think once you see that the transactional finance is well covered with autonomous finance functions, I think at that point of time, companies can start thinking about investing and then try to leverage autonomous finance in strategic finance function. But I think in my opinion, transactional finance is easier. You don’t need to wait for data environment and lot of tools because basic tools are already there, and it is more of task mining and process mining at this Stage.

Madhurima Gupta:
And how do you think is artificial intelligence transforming the way finance is done? And you know, what kind of game changing advantages to AI driven capabilities of autonomous finance operations bring to the table?

Rohit Gupta:
Well, there are plenty, right? I think there are a lot of use cases lot of material on, on the public as well, which clearly tells us that the benefits of AI not only in finance world, but everything. You look at customer world, you look at people world, in fact, at Infeedo as well, we are trying to change the customer experience through artificial intelligence. But coming back to the finance, I think it is important because what we have observed is there is a technology which now not only extracts and reads texts and numbers, but they’re able to process images, right, Barcodes and so on to facilitate like KYC and vendors. There is a contextual understanding which makes sense of data, right? Sentimental analysis plays an important role, and there is a human life flexibility as well, right, autonomous finance obviously enables you to do tasks in a way that requires minimal human intervention, right? So it involves lot of it gives lot of time when it comes to dealing with, let’s say, your customers and vendors and, and the internal customers as well, which is employees.

Madhurima Gupta:
Absolutely. And you know, I’m just curious being from a company like Infeedo, which specializes in using conversational AI technology. Do you think that your exposure to technology makes you more easy to go with, maybe using artificial intelligence even for CFO’s office?

Rohit Gupta:
Well, yeah. I mean it, it is funny, right? I mean I have so many conversations where we talk about artificial intelligence, but then I always go back and say that there is NI as well, which is natural intelligence because obviously systems, tools will do automation to a great extent, but we still need to tell them what to do, what to fix right? But I think you, we have to be open with our mindset, right? Because majority of the times, if you look at finance function, there is a bit of insecurity that if you bring automation or if we bring artificial intelligence there are chances that people feel a little insecure about themselves. But I think at a matured setup or a companies of, if we talk about enterprise companies, all these repeatable tasks and everything, it becomes very difficult to motivate people as well to do this whole thing again and again, repeat the same process. There is absolutely no growth progression. People get lost in terms of how to do things rather than why, right? So I think autonomous finance helps that layer of staff as well to upskill them, right, and be more strategic, because otherwise they are just stuck in transactional finance. So I think that is where I think artificial intelligence plays an important role. Obviously in larger companies cost savings are immense, but even in smaller companies, I think it helps you to move to strategic finance much earlier than let’s say, without a AI environment.

Madhurima Gupta:
You touched upon using the right kind of talent and upskilling, right? So I mean, of course, CFOs need the right kind of talent to implement and utilize autonomous finance function. So what is, according to you, the right mix of talent that CFO’s office needs today, and how can they nurture and train their existing, you know, human force to achieve it?

Rohit Gupta:
It’s a tough one to be quite honest, right? Because if I look at market, right, there is a limited talent availability, which understands the entire nuances of implementation. If you, even if you look at historically, you’ll get skill sets in terms of ERP implementation, software implementation, but how do you connect the dots? I know there are a lot of education material available through self-learning or classroom teaching for, for machine learning, AI, but generally people know the surface. Nobody has gone and scratched the surface to go deep into those algorithms to understand how we can apply them to the business. Not only finance, but actually the entire org needs to be ready to hire that kind of talent. To be quite honest, it’s difficult, It is difficult today to hire that kind of talent because of the limited supply, but I think with all these education material now available, I think it’s a matter of time that we will have plenty of supply in the market with these skill sets. But I think not only the skill sets are required to implement and move towards autonomous finance and artificial intelligence, we also need to train not only our staff, but ourselves as well from an IQ and a financial IQ perspective to take decisions. Right? Because no matter how much we invest in people in technology if you’re not able to act on actionable insights, we will not be able to justify the ROI, right? So I think it is important that we invest in the right tool, right people, and the mindset needs to be, needs to change and it’s a big change. It’s not a small change where you have to think strategic and you have to move fast.

Madhurima Gupta:
I totally agree with you there. The other thing that I wanted to understand is that often, I mean, I’m, I’m not a hundred percent sure of it, but you know, we talked like hundreds of CFOs, director of finances, every, I’d say three months, at least a hundred such folks. And often they, I mean, only a very small proportion of them relate to finance function to help improve customer experiences, right? That’s one area that not a lot of CFOs today are focusing on in, in the way that I have listened to the customer calls that we have had, right? Do you think that’s first? Is it right? Correct. And the second thing is is an autonomous finance function capable of helping them achieve it?

Rohit Gupta:
Well, I think Covid taught us a lot of things. And during the times of covid, I think customers expectations have increased, right? They expect a lot more from companies in general. The other aspect is not only customers, but I think a lot of companies have started realizing that employees and customers go hand in hand. We obviously need happy customers for business growth, but we need happy employees for, for business efficiency and business growth as well, right? So when I, when it comes to finance, I think I broadly divide customers into two parts. One is obviously the external customers, people who are our customers, We have sold our products to them. We need to give them awesome experience. And that is where finance also plays an important role because you want to give them a good experience in terms of invoices, collection reminders and so on, right? So that process is smooth. And then there’s a internal customer, which is our employees, right? So how do you deal with employee queries? How do you make taxation simple, simple for them to understand? How do you help them navigate different tools within finance and seek help? And I think that is where artificial intelligence can play an important role. A simple example is like a chat bot, right? You have your customer help desk and employee help desk. You can easily embed your finance systems to enable faster resolution of those tickets and give them a great experience. The other thing which which I found is whenever there is human intervention in responding to the customers, there is a bit of biasness. Right? there is a bit of delay. Not every answer is available at a click of the button, right? There might be corner cases where there is a hesitation or you might have to call somebody else for help. I think that is where artificial intelligence chat bots and these technologies can help scale in a long way, right? Because your responses to customers are consistent. There is no biasness, absolutely no biasness right? And that goes a long way, right? Because customers today, they don’t want to spend time on reading cus like product manuals, they want resolution at a within seconds, right? And, and I think that is where artificial intelligence plays an important role.

Madhurima Gupta:
All right? So I, I think that comes to the conclusion of our episode as well, you know, but before we part our ways you know, the result of transformation through AI powered autonomous finance can be dramatic, right? We’ve discussed that. And according to, you know, Harvard Business Review, a 5 billion company can save up to 8 million a year and could see return on investment within as little as three months of implementation. As your parting thoughts would you like to tell our listeners why the future of finance is autonomous?

Rohit Gupta:
I think it is inevitable, right? If even if we disagree with the fact that autonomous finance is still, has still a long way to go, it has still long way to mature, but I think we are just delaying the inevitable, right? So it is important that we embrace the technology, we embrace that change and we have to start thinking that it will help us move to strategic finance much earlier than what we anticipate, right? And as CFOs business demands that right? It is no longer a traditional finance function where you have to just keep bells and whistles. You have to keep the lights on, You have to just maintain capital efficiency. I think today, business demands more from CFO, which is all about strategy, how to move the business forward by taking care of the entire capital efficiency. And I think that is where autonomous finance will play a key role by maybe by first eliminating transactional finance and making it super simple so that you don’t focus on transactions and you get lot of time to do decision-making and strategic finance.

Madhurima Gupta:
Absolutely. I think with that, we come to conclusion of the episode Rohit and I really appreciate you taking time to have this really important discussion with me. I hope it was fun for you just as much as it was for me.

Rohit Gupta:
My pleasure, Madhurima. It’s been nice.

Madhurima Gupta:
Perfect. So thank you so much for tuning in to this episode. You know, our listeners, I really appreciate you taking your time as well, and we’ll be coming back with more experts like rohit on CFO Circle. So please continue to tune in and listen to all that. Our experts have to tell you.