CFOs attending the ChatGPT Workshop and Masterclass learned how to speak AI


CFO South Africa and Maarten de Borst hosted a workshop for finance executives and a masterclass for their teams diving into the benefits of using ChatGPT and generative AI to improve efficiencies at work.

CFO South Africa and global ChatGPT and finance guru Maarten de Borst hosted a ChatGPT Workshop for finance executives on 16 April in Melrose Arch. The workshop set out to teach some of the country’s leading CFOs how to harness generative AI to revolutionise their finance functions.

Maarten is a strategy consultant at Numbers, a boutique technology consulting firm in Amsterdam, and has a background in economics and finance. He’s the author of three books, a public speaker and technology advisor to the Amsterdam Police. “Learning how to use generative AI is like learning to talk – practice hours count,” he said at the start of the workshop.

He asked the CFOs whether they have ever tried generative AI for personal use, to which most said “yes”, and some said “never”. Attendees admitted they had mostly played around with ChatGPT for language translation, writing articles or books, searching exercise programmes, writing reports, planning weddings, drafting emails, summarising long texts and researching information.

When he asked whether they had used generative AI professionally, a third of the attendees said they used it regularly (some even daily), a third said they had only used it a couple of times, and another third said they hadn’t tried it yet. There was a recurring theme for the CFOs who had tried it, especially to help them explain technical accounting terms to other, non-finance people, or to ask technical questions – especially regarding IFRS.

Through in-depth case studies, examples, demos and interactive breakout sessions, Maarten took the CFOs through various ways they can improve their use of generative AI to better execute their roles.

“I believe that generative AI, such as ChatGPT, has the potential to revolutionise the way we approach problem-solving and decision-making in business and finance. These advanced language models can process vast amounts of data, identify patterns and generate insights that would be difficult for humans to discern on their own,” said Growth Ten CFO Rina Smith.

“In finance specifically, generative AI could be used for tasks such as financial forecasting, risk assessment, drafting reports and analysis.”

The benefits of ChatGPT

“Wow – what a great one-day course,” said Grant Scrutton, ARB Holdings FD. “Maarten correctly described this as the third wave of computer technology and, given the shortening time gaps between the waves, this will change lives and all business – not just finance – faster than all preceding breakthrough technologies.”

He explained that, before the course, he was one of the CFOs who had only dabbled with ChatGPT. “This course gave me the ‘big picture’ of the product, which could have taken me hundreds of hours to get to myself. Now the floodgates of information have been opened and I know what I have to do to stay ahead of the pack in capitalising on this new technology.”

Sibanye-Stillwater CFO Charl Keyter, who says that he learns from seeing, agrees that the practical examples were a great help, and that he also walked away with a new skill. “The biggest learning for me was to free my mind.”

Department of Justice and Constitutional Development CFO Irene Singo, who hadn’t used these kinds of models much before the workshop either, says she now sees how they can enhance data analysis and customer interaction. “The session on security protocols was invaluable, giving me a clearer understanding of how to protect sensitive information while using AI,” she explains. Irene adds that she also appreciates the assurance provided around the effectiveness of paid versus free AI services – reaffirming the value for the money she is investing.

Universal Healthcare FD Tyrone Francis was also blown away by ChatGPT’s abilities, such as data analysis. He explains that, because he works with personal health information, one of the biggest challenges he faces is ensuring the protection of confidential information. However, he says:

“There is most certainly a place for generative AI, as it can unlock efficiencies in processes, which helps provide security.”

Rina was able to learn something new about data security and integrity too. “I learned that, like many other AI technologies, generative AI is fundamentally based on the Python programming language, which impacts how we treat data when importing it,” she says. “Although a deep understanding of Python isn’t necessary to use AI effectively, the course emphasised that providing clear explanations for input data and parameters ensures the integrity and reliability of the AI model’s outputs.”

Dean Subramanian, CFO at Rand Refinery, says that he also learned how to continuously refine his searches and requests, as well as how easy it was to perform a data analysis using ChatGPT. “AI, like any tool or application, is an enabler that allows us to optimise and streamline the way we work. ChatGPT can be utilised to design a framework for various business cases.”

“These insights have definitely equipped me to make more informed decisions about integrating AI in our workflows,” Irene agrees.

CFOs embracing ChatGPT

When asked whether they see themselves using generative AI and ChatGPT more, the CFOs couldn’t be more eager. Charl, who says generative AI and tools like ChatGPT are still a relatively untapped resource at Sibanye-Stillwater, explains that he has already used it for meeting preparation, reviewing policies and for other general queries.

Rina also intends to use generative AI substantially more, particularly in the area of data analysis. “By leveraging AI tools, my team can process and analyse vast amounts of financial data much more efficiently, reducing the time spent on data preparation and allowing us to focus more on strategic decision-making and problem-solving,” she explains.

“I definitely see myself using ChatGPT in future to prepare business cases and perform data analysis, as well as to assist with drafting documents and policies,” says Dean.

Irene hopes to gain deeper insights into financial trends to make more informed decisions. “This could be particularly beneficial in strategic planning and resource allocation,” she explains.

Tyrone plans to embark on a project to understand even more of the value ChatGPT offers – especially around and beyond Power BI.

Rina adds that they learned how AI can enhance finance’s capabilities, uncover hidden patterns, identify emerging trends and predict future outcomes. “By embracing these tools and integrating them into our workflows, we can transform the finance function into a more efficient, insightful and strategic partner to the business.”

She explains that this will drive better outcomes for the organisations they work in.

“ChatGPT is here to stay and will change our lives quickly,” agrees Grant. He explains that:

“The sooner we saddle up and start riding this new horse, the sooner we can start a new journey and find new ways to add value.”

Developing finance teams

On 17 April, the CFOs’ teams got an opportunity to attend a similar masterclass, also hosted by Maarten. “AI won’t take your job, but someone who knows how to use AI will,” he told the teams as they learned how to integrate generative AI and ChatGPT into their work to make it more efficient.

He explained that taxpayers, mathematicians, accountants, auditors, financial analysts and other similar finance roles have been 100 percent exposed to the disruption of technology on their way of working.

“Compare yourself to a carpenter. Which will be priced out of the market first; the carpenter with the hammer, or the one without? The one with the hammer will be able to do more.”

Similarly, AI is just a tool to improve efficiency, Maarten said.

“It’s not too late to start exploring and adopting generative AI tools,” Rina adds. If you embrace the opportunity to learn and position yourself as a leader in this space, you’ll be well-equipped to drive success in the future of finance and technology.”

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