New research from digital finance transformation leader BlackLine has revealed that 22% of Australian CFOs do not fully trust the accuracy of their organisations' financial data. This finding suggests there are significant challenges posed for key decision-making at a time when leaders worldwide are facing numerous external obstacles. Increasingly, organisations are responding by automating their processes using AI and other emerging technologies.
The international survey included over 1,300 C-suite and senior finance and accounting (F&A) professionals, with 170 from Australia. It aimed to identify factors causing concern for both business and F&A leaders globally that may disrupt their organisation and the broader economic landscape. A majority (84 %) of the Australian respondents are worried about the prospect of another global financial crisis. They also expressed fears regarding the potential impact of cybersecurity issues (84%) and new disruptive technology (81%) on their businesses.
The ability to access and analyse financial data in real time was highlighted by Australian CFOs as one of the most critical factors that would enable their company to respond to business disruption. However, 43% of Australia's senior finance and accounting professionals indicated that they do not fully trust the financial data they are working with. Indeed, no respondents claimed to have complete confidence in their organisation's visibility over cashflows, and 51% acknowledged that real-time cash flow understanding will be crucial for their companies to navigate unpredictable market changes.
A lack of confidence in cash flow visibility and the potential for error in manual processes was cited as causes for concern among respondents. Over half (55%) reported that this lack of visibility hampers their ability to respond to market fluctuations and a similar number (54%) are concerned that decisions may be made based on inaccurate or obsolete information. Furthermore, 72% of respondents highlighted the overwhelming volume of manual day-to-day tasking, and the related potential for errors, as obstacles to effective planning and analysis.
Offering his thoughts on the findings, Owen Ryan, co-CEO of BlackLine, said: "Trusting the data organisations work with is critical for effective decision-making. We have been monitoring trust and confidence in financial data over the last five years, and while trust levels have started to improve, the bottom line is that trust is still not as strong as it should be, making it difficult for leaders to make fast, effective, data-driven decisions."
When asked why scepticism regarding their organisation's data persists, over a third (38%) of respondents cited data amalgamation from too many sources as causing uncertainty. Other causes include reliance on cumbersome spreadsheets (37%), which keep F&A teams uninformed until month-end, and antiquated processes, including manual data collection, which are more prone to human errors (32%).
In response to these challenges, a majority of respondents expressed the need for new technologies, such as AI, to streamline financial operations. Key areas seen as critical for improving business resilience vis-à-vis future disruption include cloud computing (88%), generative AI (78%), and new kinds of AI (84%).
In conclusion, Ryan emphasised: "Businesses have invested in technology solutions in recent years, including emerging forms of AI, but it's clear that too many are still reliant on manual processes. Companies need to embrace modern, next-generation solutions that automate cumbersome processes and give them complete visibility and control over their financial data. These will be indispensable assets in building resilience for future success."
The research was conducted online by surveying 660 C-level and 679 F&A professionals in seven markets: the US, Canada, the UK, France, Germany, Australia, and Singapore.