How FP&A Professionals Can Line Up High-Scoring Data Combos

Guts vs Data in FP&A Equation

Intuition, Intelligence, and More: How FP&A Professionals Can Line Up High-Scoring Data Combos

As a FP&A professional, you have a gift for numbers. You’re the data whisperer, the spreadsheet savant, the ruler of data of reconciliation. As technology evolves, it’s becoming easier to simplify activities across the entire FP&A spectrum. With the right set-up, a company can automate repetitive business processes and directly integrate data from numerous sources. It’s amazing and also a little terrifying. Can humans compete with the amazing speed and accuracy of technology?

Even the best of us have limits: we max out at a 10-key speed of 10,000 KPH and, as of yet, there is no mental cloud where all our brains are hosted. But we do have something that computers and artificial intelligence never will: intuition, our “gut feelings.”

Feelings vs. Data: Finance Thought Leaders Weigh In

So, how should FP&A leaders and organizations make the best use of both new technology and tried and true gut feelings? Now that newer technological advances have made computers more efficient at managing and automating data, what does this mean for the future of FP&A profession?

To help answer these questions, we collected insights from FP&A visionaries and discovered that the future they envision is one in which the thoughts, insights and “gut feelings” of FP&A leaders continue to be at the core of corporate success.

It Takes Guts To Make the Right Decision

[bctt tweet=”Finance professionals shouldn’t ignore the data — but they shouldn’t totally ignore their emotions, or their “gut,” either. @rcarrowsmith” username=”prophix”]

Ranica Arrowsmith, Technology Editor of Accounting Today, is a fierce advocate of new technologies but also believes that one of the most important financial tools in existence is the so-called 
“gut feeling” of an experienced FP&A leader. “When finance professionals have been in the industry for a considerable amount of time, they develop [what] may be called ‘instinct’ for decision making,” she says. “While the term ‘instinct’ seems flimsy and vague, it describes a complex set of unconscious observations and decisions people make based on experience and education.”

Arrowsmith references the groundbreaking research of Jennifer Lerner, Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, who studied the connection between emotions and decision making.  One of Lerner’s findings is that people with emotional impairment are less adept at making decisions. Arrowsmith notes that, “When finance professionals talk about making decisions on gut feel, they may not be conveying the important fact that gut feeling is a combination of emotion, and experience, and knowledge.”

Business acumen rooted in emotional intelligence is critical to strategic financial choices. “Just as it may not be advisable to make a decision based solely on emotion, it may not be advisable, either, to make a decision based solely on cold data,” Arrowsmith says. “Finance professionals shouldn’t ignore the data — but they shouldn’t totally ignore their emotions, or their ‘gut,’ either.”

Human Intelligence Must Guide Artificial Intelligence

[bctt tweet=”Even cleverly assisted by machines, our organizations and CEOs still expect us to answer the question of “So what?” And, for the foreseeable future, the human mind is still required here as well.” username=”prophix”]

While David Chase, Managing Partner & CEO of Advanced CFO, believes that the fundamental role of FP&A is to use data to answer questions about corporate strategy, he understands the resistance to new technologies. “Even though many finance personnel feel driven to move past report generation and into value-added insight, many aren’t sure exactly how to do so,” he says. “And paradoxically, the convergence of finance, data visualization and data science – the very movement that will provide the tools necessary to add value – leaves many in the field of finance feeling threatened.”

Chase cites a recent HBR article (How AI Fits Into Your Data Science Team) in which Hilary Mason describes data science as “counting things cleverly, predicting things, and building models on data.” Chase feels that FP&A professional embrace and embody that theory, “But when data science becomes machine learning and artificial intelligence, then we begin to quiver and worry about our jobs,” he says. “But machine learning is still only data science with the ability to ‘incorporate feedback loops’ which still requires human programming and the machinations of the human mind.”

What is the implication of this? ”Even cleverly assisted by machines, our organizations and CEOs still expect us to answer the question of ‘So what?’ And for the foreseeable future, the human mind is still required here as well,” Chase says. “Artificial intelligence and technology, rather than undermining finance’s role in the C-suite, is enhancing its ability to shine.”

Intuition + Intelligence + Data = A Killer Combo

By itself, the most comprehensive data can only take a company so far.  Even the amazing advances in technologies, such machine learning and data automation,  are not going to change that. Organizations still need the experienced, emotional minds of seasoned FP&A professionals to help guide them towards the best, most strategic financial decisions.

Read the Defining the Evolution of FP&A: Benchmarks, Challenge & Opportunities survey for more information on the evolution of technology and trends.


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