AI and finance: What could go wrong?

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CFO East Africa’s recent Man vs Machine Summit saw the region’s leading CFOs share their fears, futuristic thinking and a cautionary tale about a costly deep fake.

CFO East Africa’s Man vs Machine Summit, at the Movenpick Hotel in Nairobi, saw the region’s leading CFOs share their experiences on all matters AI.

Keynote speaker Esther Wanjiru Munyi, who is Sasfin’s chief Data & Analytics officer, championed the cause for onboarding AI.

“I understand that people are fearful,” she said to a captive audience of close to 100 CFOs, “but I’d like to say to you, machines and AI cannot replace humans. I think it's very important that not only do you embrace and also collaborate with the technology experts and organisations, but really take time to trust them and work with them to be able to find a way to work together and come up with a competitive advantage.”

Stay curious

Esther also acknowledged the sceptics who err on the side of caution when it comes to the unknown. “I've seen a lot of leaders resisting this concept of AI and machine learning because of governance. And I'm not saying that we shouldn't think about this. I'm saying that we shouldn't be too focused on what could go wrong,” she explained.

Esther closed with a clarion call to the CFOs present to embrace the new - and stay curious.

It was then time for a quick Q&A session, during which Ernst Vriesendorp, CFO of SolarNow in Uganda, wanted to know what opportunities were available for CFOs to consider in their finance spaces.

“From a financial perspective, there are a lot of models available for things such as pricing. From a calibration perspective, a lot of the modelling is done by AI. It is difficult for someone to adopt something that they don’t see impacting them in their personal lives and so CFOs should start using AI to gain an appreciation of the vast opportunities,” Esther said in response.

Terminator

During the evening’s panel discussion, CFO East Africa co-founder and community manager KC Rottok Chesaina hosted a riveting discussion on the inclusion - or lack thereof - of AI in finance.

The panel comprised KCB Group CFO Lawrence Kimathi, Catherine Mwololo, CFO at Westcon-Comstor Middle East & Africa and Deloitte’s Risk and Advisory partner Urvi Patel.

“When I think AI, I think Terminator!” Lawrence exclaimed, “but definitely, there’s a role for AI to play in the world.”

Catherine, who works in the IT space, has embraced and even enjoys working with AI, but she urged extreme checks and balances.

“One of the things we've done as a company is to ensure that people really understand AI. Is it regulated? Is it protected? Where do we draw the line as a company? But also making sure that we are looking forward to the potential. It's something we can't take away,” she explained.

At Westcon-Comstor, Catherine explained, ChatGPT and related AI tools are strictly prohibited on company computers for safety purposes.

Echoing Catherine’s sentiments, Urvi gave the example of a finance officer in Hong Kong who lost his company USD 25 million, because of deep fakes.

“If you follow that, it makes sense that you want to approach this quite cautiously,” Urvi said. “For me, I would say focus on understanding where your inefficiencies lie. Focus on understanding the processes that are probably more tedious. It's definitely aspirational to think about how you bring in AI to do a lot more modern stuff, but you’ve also got to be realistic.”

Approvals and appreciation

On the sidelines of the Man vs Machine Summit, CFOs expressed similar sentiments to those of the panellists.

According to Hello Tractor’s FD Esther Musyoki, “I think I'll say I'm closer to the team that's more appreciative of AI, because I work for an agri-tech company. But I believe maybe there should be some other levels of approval [in finance].”

Deloitte CEO Anne Muraya said, “I think whenever there's something new that can help us work better, I want to understand it more. And that's my view on AI. I think we should explore it more, not be afraid of it.”

At the break away roundtables, the conversation of the tech revolution continued. Expectations that CFOs appreciate tech are on the rise with the role becoming more complex with the passing of time.

But as Esther neatly summed up: ”AI is supposed to consume the information for us so that we can be free to think, to strategise, to innovate and to create.”

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