From autocorrect on a smartphone to auto-suggesting products to buy based on your shopping patterns, artificial intelligence (AI) has already made its way into daily life. The spread of AI has corporate treasurers asking important questions, such as how AI will affect their teams and what to do now to prepare for the AI-enabled future.
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“AI means different things to different players in the corporate treasury ecosystem,” says U.S. Bank Global Treasury Management Senior Vice President and Head of Product Management, Sayantan Chakraborty. “It’s critical to understand what AI can do today versus future possibilities.”
Corporate treasurers who understand this difference can better prepare for both the benefits and the challenges AI presents. Although AI has the potential to enhance many aspects of the treasury function, its payoffs come only when the right foundation is in place and the organization sets realistic expectations.
AI is a broad and fluid category of computer science that attempts to solve problems that were previously believed to be only solveable by human intellect. The definition of AI evolves as technology advances, and some AI applications are now so commonplace that many people don’t see them as AI. This evolution is named the AI effect.
Here are three things to consider:
Computers can quickly and efficiently process significant amounts of data, meaning they accelerate pattern recognition and enhance decision-making. Treasuries of the future are applying data mining and AI-based analytics to data sets that include all types of payments and collections. They then use this analysis to find ways to lower transaction costs and reduce the need for working capital, Chakraborty says.
In addition, data mining and AI combine to identify new metrics to better measure treasury performance.
Machine learning, robotic process automation and other technologies are already taking on some tasks in controlled environments, such as accounts receivable reconciliation and web-based chatbots for customer support. Within the next few years, these technologies will likely have expanded capabilities and will be in wide use, Chakraborty says.
Some of the hype surrounding AI stems from a belief that corporate treasury simply needs to acquire the right technology to yield results. Technology, no matter how advanced, can’t fix inefficient or ineffective business processes, Chakraborty adds.
Flawed processes can develop over time as a result of workarounds to accommodate exceptions, or from underinvestment in technology. Regardless of their origins, flawed processes can incur hidden costs, often in the form of wasted employee time or project delays.
Before seeking technology solutions, treasury management departments need to clearly understand and systematically improve how their teams work. Chakraborty suggests treasurers first identify a few key processes, analyze their direct and indirect costs and begin refining them. Then, when AI is available to enhance or take over those tasks, treasury management departments can optimize the results.
For AI to move from proof-of-concept to wide application, more than technological advances are necessary, according to Chakraborty. People’s work-style also needs to adapt.
A key factor in that shift is generational change. Members of Generation X are now in middle and senior management positions. Millennials and Generation Z make up a large share of entry-level and non-management employees. The workforce of today is more likely to embrace new technologies outside of work, and this attitude can help propel the business case for AI applications that, so far, have not gained much traction, Chakraborty says.
Within the next three to five years, Chakraborty expects corporate treasury employees to shift some of their repetitive tasks to machines and spend their time doing higher-value work. And according to the 2017 AFP Strategic Role of Treasury Survey, more than a third of treasury professional respondents indicate that technology and automation have already enabled them to make that shift.
To prepare for the AI-enabled future, Chakraborty suggests corporate treasurers think about forward compatibility when making technology purchase decisions. He advises against buying software that doesn’t allow for a future application of AI.
At many organizations, the treasury function is a cost center rather than a profit center, so its technologies may not be updated as regularly as those in other departments. “At U.S. Bank, we understand this. We can actually help bridge the gap by creating tools that make it possible for our clients to take advantage of new technologies,” Chakraborty says.
Treasurers will also benefit by taking a perspective that’s balanced between the present and the future.
To learn more about how AI can enhance your treasury department today and tomorrow, contact your U.S. Bank relationship manager.