CFOs should be Road Runners, not a Wile E. Coyote, says Ray de Villiers

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Future of work guru Ray de Villiers says that, as the role of finance teams changes due to generative AI taking over their number-crunching responsibilities, it’s up to CFOs to make sure their people understand what the new future will look like, and the power they have to impact it.

In a world where a lot of the traditional value propositions of finance teams are being automated, CFOs are one of the individuals who are impacted the most by the changing ways of work. According to future of work guru Ray de Villiers, “While this presents a whole new set of challenges for finance leaders to navigate, it also makes them uniquely qualified to help organisations realise the interconnected realities of people and technology.”

Ray will be delivering the keynote address at this week’s CFO Cape Town Summit: The People Power Reimagined, where leading finance executives will discuss how to build finance teams that are fit for this new future.

“I recently read a blog post recently where Ben Evans talked about the ’Wile E. Coyote effect’. This is when, at the point when it is most critical for a business to innovate, everything might still look great and leadership sees no reason to change trajectory. And it’s at this time that something new disrupts the market, quickly making your business irrelevant,” he says.

Ray quotes Ben, saying: “...you’ve run off the cliff, but you’re not falling, and everything seems fine. But by the time you start falling, it’s too late.”

In the article, Ben uses Nokia and Blackberry as an example, which quickly became irrelevant to the likes of Apple and Google. “Nokia and Blackberry were skating to where the puck was going to be, while Apple and Google were melting the ice rink and switching the game to water-skiing.”

Ray explains that CFOs need to make sure their teams understand what game they are playing, what the new rules of the game are, and what the landscape is going to look like going forward.

“One of the questions Al Gore often asks is, ‘What is the fifth industrial revolution going to look like?’ The fourth industrial revolution has been all about integrating technology into the human world, while ESG and sustainability have come in at the tail-end of the conversation,” he says.

The finance function is able to understand its customer landscape and interpret that data into relevant and affordable customer experiences. “They have to interpret the numbers of the business through the unique lens of what the people need – driving valuable impact in both the internal and external communities of the organisation,” Ray says.

“The fifth industrial revolution is going to be about integrating that inclusiveness and purpose into the technology,” he predicts, adding that he recently read a report that looked at the energy impact of generating images using AI. “The energy consumption required to generate an image is the same as the average full-charge cycle of a cell phone. So as we’re integrating these technologies into our business, we need to start accounting for the increased environmental footprint that goes with using those technologies.”

He explains that finance teams also need to go into social and governance a bit more.

“Generative AI can interpret the data too, but with a formula and algorithm that doesn’t have heart – that’s what the people need to bring.”

Ray concludes that a sustainable finance team should make sure they have a comprehensive and holistic approach to delivering value for the business and its communities.

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