AI in Treasury Operations: Insights from Sloane Kolt from Datarails
Welcome to a deep dive into how AI is shaking up treasury operations! Our guest today, Sloane Kolt, is a seasoned pro in corporate finance with over a decade of experience. Currently at the helm of the Datarails lab, Sloan brings a wealth of knowledge about AI and its practical applications in Treasury and FP&A. For those unfamiliar, Datarails is an AI-powered platform that makes financial planning and analysis a walk in the park—all within the Excel environment you’re already using.
So, what’s on the menu today? First, we’ll dive into the different types of AI technologies, like generative AI and machine learning, and how they reshape finance and treasury sectors. We’ll also talk about the nitty-gritty of implementing these tools but with a keen eye on data security.
Curious about how AI affects cash flow forecasting? Or how about its role in boosting collaboration between FP&A and Treasury departments? We’ve got answers for you. This article will also spotlight AI-driven tools like chatbots, which are making waves by enhancing interdepartmental communication and trust.
Let’s jump right in!
Understanding The Basics of AI And Its Impact on Treasury Management
You’ve probably heard the buzz about Artificial Intelligence, or AI. But what exactly is it? In simple terms, AI aims to mimic human intelligence through computer simulations. Although we’re still far from fully replicating human-like intelligence, recent advancements like generative AI, computer vision, and Natural Language Processing (NLP) have been game-changers.
Different Types of AI
- Generative AI: Though not an official term, it generally refers to programs that can create things. For instance, ChatGPT, a type of AI, uses natural language processing to understand data patterns and generate responses.
- Computer Vision: This type helps read invoices and other documents, automating data entry tasks. It’s particularly useful in areas like accounts payable.
- Machine Learning: Here, the focus is on predictive analytics. It uses data patterns to make forecasts, like business cash flow projections.
AI is becoming a valuable tool for treasury management, although it’s important to remember that human oversight is still needed.
Cash Flow Forecasting
Machine learning is becoming especially useful for cash flow forecasting. It helps you identify patterns and anomalies in your data. But keep in mind these forecasts should be double-checked for accuracy.
AI tools can aid in risk assessment, helping you make more informed decisions about hedging and third-party risks. They provide quick and automated ways to analyze large datasets, which can greatly help.
How Can Generative AI Benefit Treasury Operations?
Generative AI has some neat tricks to make your life in treasury management a breeze. Let’s dig into what this tech can do for you.
Simplifying Communication and Collections
First up, if your Accounts Receivable (AR) team is swamped with sending collection emails, generative AI can step in. It can craft personalized emails to get those pending payments cleared faster. You have to feed it some basic parameters, and it’ll figure out the rest. No more sifting through databases and manually tailoring each email.
Smart Data Analysis
Have you ever wondered how your incoming payments match up against your outgoing ones? Generative AI can answer that. These tools allow you to connect your data and start asking specific questions. Want to know a trend or understand your payables versus your receivables? Generative AI can help you there, too.
Real-Time Boardroom Solutions
Imagine being in a board meeting and getting thrown a curveball question about the Treasury you haven’t prepared for. Sounds stressful, right? With the right generative AI tools, you can pull up accurate data on the screen. This is a game-changer because it means no more scrambling for answers while everyone else is busy talking.
Data Security Concerns
Now, let’s talk about something critical: data security. While generative AI is powerful, not all tools are created equal in protecting your sensitive information. For instance, you might be tempted to use chat-based generative tools. But be careful. If you’re not using a specialized enterprise version, your data could be used to train their models. That’s a big no-no if you want to keep your financial data private.
So, in a nutshell, generative AI can revolutionize your treasury operations. But, like anything, it comes with its own set of precautions.
Why Not Use ChatGPT in a Corporate Boardroom?
When you’re in a board meeting and need quick information, generative AI can be a lifesaver. But why not use ChatGPT for this? Here’s the lowdown.
Lack of Time and Customization
First off, ChatGPT is a generic tool. You’d have to spend valuable time setting it up with your company data to get meaningful answers. If you’re in a meeting, you don’t have time. You need a specialized tool already synced with your data for immediate, accurate answers.
Data Privacy Concerns
Think about your company’s confidential data. Using the regular version of ChatGPT could expose this data, training the machine with your sensitive information. If someone else asks a similar question, your company’s proprietary details could be out in the open. So, unless you’re using a secure enterprise version, it’s best to avoid it for business applications.
Don’t Expose Non-public Forecasts
You might be tempted to ask ChatGPT about your company’s future projections. But steer clear unless you want to share your company’s secrets with the world. Data privacy is crucial in the corporate world.
How AI Can Help (or Hinder) Cash Flow Forecasting
Firstly, AI—mostly through machine learning—speeds up data analysis. It identifies patterns in your financial records so you get quick answers to your cash flow questions. Let’s say you’re a business owner who doesn’t have time to sift through every transaction. AI comes to your rescue by highlighting trends you might not spot.
But There’s a Catch
While AI offers a fast, data-driven perspective, it can’t fully grasp the nuances of your business. Factors like new laws, product launches, or changes in payment terms can impact your cash flow. Even larger trends, like economic downturns, can skew the forecast. So, always remember, machine learning models don’t know your business inside out.
The Human Touch is a Critical
You’ll still need a finance or treasury expert to fine-tune the forecast. They can factor in laws, economic conditions, or business strategy changes. A human can provide that much-needed sanity check on AI’s output. Is the data showing something outlandish? An expert can say if it’s an anomaly or a legit concern.
So, Should You Use AI for Cash Flow Forecasting?
Absolutely, but responsibly. AI is a powerful tool for identifying patterns and helping make quick financial decisions. But don’t disregard the results. You need to understand how the model was set up and what assumptions were made. It’s all about blending AI’s computational power with human insight.
In summary, AI in cash flow forecasting is a double-edged sword. It offers quick, data-driven insights but needs a human touch for a well-rounded view.
How to Make Sense of Data While Using AI for Cashflow Forecasting
When it comes to cash flow forecasting, AI can be a game-changer. But don’t forget, you’re in the driver’s seat. You need to know how to use the data properly to make the best decisions for your business.
Why AI Can Be Useful
AI is great at analyzing large sets of data quickly. You can’t possibly look at every transaction yourself, right? AI helps you spot patterns and trends that would take a lot of time and effort to identify manually. This helps you make quicker and more informed decisions. It’s like having an extra set of eyes that never get tired.
What AI Can’t Do
However, AI models don’t know your business inside and out like you do. They can’t factor in upcoming business changes or events like launching a new product or changing payment terms. So, the forecasts they generate might lack some nuance.
The Human Element is a Critical
You’ll need to step in and add context to these automated forecasts. Say you’re planning a big initiative that will likely affect your cash flow. The AI can’t know that. It’s up to you to factor this in.
Beyond your company, broader economic conditions can also impact your cash flow. For instance, economic downturns can make your customers more cautious about spending. This would affect your cash flow forecasts, and again, AI wouldn’t pick this up unless you tell it to.
Why You Should Still Use AI
Don’t dismiss AI just because it can’t do everything. Use AI to help you see the big patterns, but always keep your business sense in the mix. You must look at the results and ask yourself: “Does this make sense?”
Special Cases to Consider
And sometimes, external factors like elections, local events like concerts, or even seasonal changes might drastically affect your business. AI won’t catch these nuances unless you set it up to do so. You can’t just rely on the numbers; you have to understand what’s behind them.
What is FP&A and How Does It Interact with Treasury?
Understanding FP&A (Financial Planning & Analysis) is crucial for any business, big or small. It plays a pivotal role in forecasting, budgeting, and ensuring your company’s strategies align with its financial goals. So, let’s dive into what FP&A does and how it’s different yet deeply connected to the treasury department.
What Does FP&A Do?
In larger companies, FP&A primarily focuses on:
- Forecasting: Planning for future revenues and expenses.
- Budgeting: Allocating resources based on the forecast.
- Analysis: Comparing actual performance against the budget or prior periods.
This part of the business provides critical insights. It helps companies understand how well they’re doing and assists in making financially sound decisions.
FP&A and Treasury: Two Sides of the Same Coin
While FP&A is more about long-term planning, the treasury department usually focuses on short-term cash needs. But that doesn’t mean they work in isolation. These departments must collaborate to fully understand the company’s financial health.
- Treasury needs to know about large expenses that might be coming up.
- FP&A needs to know the company’s cash position to make accurate forecasts.
So, you see, they need each other to be most effective.
The Overlapping Functions
In smaller companies, you might find that the same team handles both treasury and FP&A tasks, including:
- Cash flow forecasting
- Funding the business
- Managing excess cash
And guess what? Even as companies grow, these departments remain interdependent.
The Role of Technology
Think about this: AI can give both departments a boost. It can help with accurate forecasting and even suggest investment options. While implementing AI might be tricky, tools are emerging to help make smarter financial decisions.
- FP&A is about long-term financial planning, while Treasury focuses on the short term.
- These departments need to work closely for optimal financial health.
- Technology like AI is becoming a game-changer in making financial decisions.
How AI Helps FP&A and Treasury Work Better Together
The magic happens when the Financial Planning & Analysis (FP&A) and Treasury departments join forces, and guess what? AI is here to play matchmaker. It’s all about collaboration, but how do you choose the right AI tools for both sides? Let’s get into it.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
No single AI model fits the bill for every company’s FP&A and Treasury needs. Businesses tailor their models based on unique requirements and circumstances. While both departments might use similar tools, the detail level varies. FP&A often examines cash from a broader perspective, while Treasury zeroes in on the nitty-gritty details. So, to foster seamless cooperation, both need to clearly communicate their modeling needs and objectives.
The Business Partner Angle
Treasury and FP&A aren’t just departments; they’re business partners. FP&A helps forecast and informs the Treasury about the financial models that need to be used. Meanwhile, the Treasury ensures there’s a solid cash plan, whether the cash is in the bank or somewhere else. This partnership becomes even more vital when AI enters the equation.
AI’s Role in Automating AP and AR
Speaking of cooperation, let’s not forget the Accounts Payable (AP) and Accounts Receivable (AR) departments. These folks are crucial players, and AI has some cool tricks up its sleeve here, too.
Computer Vision in AP
Computer vision technology is a game-changer for AP. While it may not be directly relevant for FP&A, it plays a significant role in AP. Imagine AI recognizing invoice details, like vendors and prices, and automatically updating your system. That minimizes human error and frees up staff to focus on tasks that really need their attention. Think about this: If your company isn’t using computer vision for invoice management, now might be the time to start.
The Ripple Effect on FP&A
All the data created by AP and AR eventually finds its way to FP&A for analysis. FP&A starts digging into transactions, invoices, and more when things go off the budget. That’s where all this automated data gathering can be a treasure trove. It can shed light on issues like vendor inflation or other budget variances. So, the data that AP and AR collect becomes critical for FP&A’s big-picture analysis.
How Can AI Improve Collaboration Between Business Departments Like Treasury and FP&A?
The challenge of departmental silos in companies is a big one. Often, departments like Treasury, Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A), Accounts Payable (AP), and Accounts Receivable (AR) operate independently. This lack of interaction can be a roadblock to business success. But can AI pave the way for better collaboration? You bet!
Breaking Down the Silos
First, let’s address the elephant in the room: the silo mentality. FP&A and Treasury departments need to get out of their bubbles and talk to each other. It’s a mindset shift that companies have to pursue actively. Leaders, including CFOs, must ensure their teams are communicating well. Think about it: the more everyone knows, the better the strategic decisions will be.
The Role of AI
Now, how can AI help in this? For starters, some tools perform sentiment analysis on internal communications. These tools can gauge the mood within departments, giving insights into how teams feel and how often they interact. If the analysis reveals that communication is lacking or tense, steps can be taken to improve it. And yes, using these tools involves a data privacy trade-off, but the benefits usually outweigh the risks.
Note: Choose tools from trusted vendors who adhere to data privacy norms. These tools focus only on capturing general feelings like ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ avoiding detailed scrutiny of conversations.
Working Together on Analytics
Both FP&A and Treasury teams deal with analytics. FP&A may focus on predictive analytics, while the Treasury might look at cash flow scenarios. It makes sense for them to collaborate on these models. The union of these analyses can offer a well-rounded view, making the company’s strategy more robust.
Balancing Ethics and Surveillance in AI-Driven Employee Monitoring
When a company uses AI to monitor employees, questions about ethics, privacy, and company culture inevitably surface. Concerns remain even when employees are told that the monitoring focuses on the “sentiment” of their communications rather than the content. This begs the question: How do you strike a balance?
Creating the Right Company Culture
To make AI-driven monitoring work, you need the right company culture. Fostering an environment of psychological safety is critical. In a psychologically safe workspace, employees won’t feel like Big Brother watches every move they make. They’ll feel free to collaborate and communicate without fear. The goal is not to catch individual employees in the act but to spot broader issues the company needs to address. So, before considering implementing AI tools, ensure your workplace has a culture that promotes trust and open communication.
The Double-Edged Sword of Monitoring
Here’s the deal: Companies are already keeping tabs on their employees for various reasons. However, using AI tools ramps up the monitoring to a new level. These tools can dig deep, but they should be applied carefully and transparently to avoid making employees uncomfortable or fostering distrust.
AI Ethics is a Work in Progress
Think about this: AI ethics is murky, and many organizations are working hard to set the guidelines. The ethics of AI are neither black nor white; they exist in various shades of grey. The tech is still new, and we’re all trying to determine what’s ethical and what’s not.
AI in Market Sentiment Analysis: Quantifying the Vibe
So, you’re probably wondering how AI is used in market sentiment analysis areas. Companies like Owlin are making strides in this direction. They can determine market sentiment about a particular entity by analyzing large datasets. For instance, if you’re heavily invested in a bank, you’d want to know how that bank is perceived in the market. Are they seen favorably, or are they in hot water?
Making Informed Financial Decisions
Knowing the market’s “vibe” can help you make smarter investment decisions. With AI, you can back up your gut feelings with actual data. Whether you’re managing company finances or your portfolio, using AI tools to understand market sentiment can provide valuable insights.
How Can AI Improve Interdepartmental Collaboration?
Imagine you work in a company with multiple departments and need information from another department’s policies. Usually, you’d dig through endless folders and documents. Thanks to AI-driven chatbots, you can ask a question and get the exact info you need! This works like magic for better communication between departments.
The Treasury Policy Chatbot: A Case Study
Let’s say you work in Finance and Planning Analysis (FP&A) and need details about your company’s foreign exchange (FX) exposure policy in Latin America. Normally, you’d have to search through a 150-page treasury policy document. That’s exhausting and time-consuming! But with a chatbot trained on company policies, you type your question and get the answer. No more headaches!
The Real Benefit: Transparency and Efficiency
The chatbot makes you realize that other departments aren’t being difficult. They’re just following the company’s policy. This newfound understanding promotes better teamwork and is aligned with the company’s overall strategy.
What’s the Best Way to Implement AI in Your Company?
Implementing AI isn’t just about installing software. It’s a change in your work culture. If you’re thinking about bringing AI into your workspace, here are some tips for a smooth transition:
Addressing Job Security Concerns
People often fear that AI will take their jobs. The truth? AI changes jobs but doesn’t eliminate them. Help your team understand that. Encourage them to play around with basic AI models to get comfortable.
Role of AI: Assistant, Not Replacement
AI can’t replace human skills like strategic decision-making. It’s not an enemy; it’s a tool that needs human supervision. So, if you plan to use AI, ensure your team knows they’re still essential.
Start with a Task List
What tasks take up most of your time? Data entry? AI can handle the boring stuff, letting you focus on what matters. Make a list of tasks AI can handle and share it with your team.
Change Management and Company Culture
Different companies have different attitudes toward change. In some places, change is exciting. In others, it’s met with resistance. Know your team’s comfort level and plan accordingly. The goal is to empower everyone to use AI for their benefit.
Get Team Input
Ask your team for ideas on how AI can improve your daily work life. Their insights could be invaluable, making your AI implementation even more effective.
Practical Tips for Integrating AI in Treasury Operations
So, you’re interested in leveraging AI for your treasury functions, but where do you start? The good news is that you don’t have to make a giant leap overnight. Here are some helpful pointers for making the transition smooth and effective.
Good Data is Key
First things first: your data needs to be clean and organized. In the tech world, there’s a saying: “Garbage in, garbage out.” So, before even thinking about AI, ensure your data is in tip-top shape. This means having good data hygiene and accurate ways to measure your accounts receivable (AR), accounts payable (AP), and capital planning.
Evaluate Your Current Systems
Take a close look at your existing infrastructure. You might be using Excel for data management, and that’s fine, but it shouldn’t be your only method. A structured database is crucial for more complex tasks. However, if you’re using outdated or proprietary systems that don’t allow for easy data extraction, you may need to consider an upgrade.
When you’ve sorted your data and systems, it’s time to pick the right tools for the job. Tools like Datarails can help you manage your Treasury and financial models more efficiently. But remember, the size of your business will also influence your tool selection. Larger businesses with more transactions will likely benefit more from AI applications.
Assess Your Needs
Think about your company’s size and transaction volume. If a small business pulls in around a million dollars a year, skipping AI might not hurt you. But if you’re a larger enterprise, implementing AI could offer significant benefits.
Connect the Dots
It’s not just about having the data; you should also be able to connect it. For example, your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system should allow easy data extraction and integration with other tools. This makes your data more usable and allows you to identify useful patterns and trends.
Plan for the Future
Last but not least, keep an eye on the road ahead. Make plans that consider potential tech upgrades and weigh the pros and cons. Whether it’s sticking with your current bank or opting for one that offers electronic statements, each decision should align with your long-term business goals.
How Can DataWheels Benefit Treasury Departments?
DataWheels is a tool that can do wonders for treasury departments. Let’s dive right into how this platform functions and its advantages.
Excel: The Undying Workhorse
First, let’s talk about Excel. You’re probably already using it for your data modeling needs, and there’s a reason it’s so popular. Excel is incredibly flexible and adaptable. DataWheels takes this love for Excel a step further. It integrates Excel with other platforms, making it an even more robust tool.
Do you have other systems you’re using? DataWheels can sync up with them easily. So, if you’ve got an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system or any other tool, DataWheels can bring that data into its platform. The result is a smooth workflow where all your important data is centralized.
Smart Data Management
Once your data is in the DataWheels system, the magic starts. It automates the boring stuff, like data manipulation and Extract, Transform, and Load (ETL) processes. You get a clean database you can trust at the end of the day. Now, you’re ready to make informed decisions without the hassle.
Real-Time Access with Excel Add-in
You can fetch real-time data right into your Excel sheet. Imagine having the ability to pull up-to-date financial data without making your Excel sheet crash. You get direct access to the database via formulas, tables, and other Excel features you’re already familiar with.
Dashboards and AI Features
Here’s the cherry on top. DataWheels offers a web environment where you can build dashboards for visual insights. And yes, there’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) too! With features like FP&A Genius, you can get answers to complex questions in a snap. Wondering how your cash trend looks this year? Just ask, and you’ll get a quick and detailed response.
Watch for predictive analytics and “what-if” analyses coming soon. These features will let you run scenarios like changing payment terms to see the financial impact, all without breaking a sweat.
How Trustworthy Are Autonomous AI Agents?
But what’s next in the world of AI for treasury departments? Imagine a future where autonomous agents take on complex tasks for you. Autonomous AI agents might sound like something from a sci-fi movie, but they’re becoming a reality. Some worry that letting these AIs make their own decisions could lead to “Terminator-like” scenarios. However, that’s not the case—at least not yet.
Ethical Guardrails are Important
Ethics plays a huge role in this tech. These AIs are nowhere near the doomsday robots, some imagine. That said, combining advanced robotics with AI, like what Boston Dynamics is doing, raises some eyebrows. They use sophisticated AI to control robots that can balance, flip, and recover when knocked over. Cool, right? But it’s crucial to handle these advancements carefully to avoid unintended consequences.
How Does This Relate to Finance and Treasury?
You might be wondering what all this has to do with finance or Treasury. For now, not much. But the landscape is changing rapidly, and AI is entering more sectors. So, a detailed discussion on this is for another time. But for now, it’s good to know that these domains will inevitably intersect with AI in the future.
Get Comfortable with AI: It’s the Next Big Thing
If you haven’t dabbled in AI yet, now’s the time. Think about it like you would Excel. Remember how Excel changed the game for finance and Treasury? AI is going to have a similar impact. Companies are already seeing its value, so you should, too. It’s time to upskill. Learn about AI’s limitations and its potential benefits. Understanding AI is not only interesting but can also make your life better if used correctly.
We’ve taken a good look at the many flavors of AI, from generative AI to machine learning, and how they can shake up treasury operations. Generative AI isn’t just for show—it makes communication easier, sorts through data like a pro, and gives you real-time answers to those tough boardroom questions. But let’s not forget keeping your data secure is key.
When it comes to cash flow, AI is your sidekick, not your replacement. It can crunch numbers fast and spot trends, but you still need human expertise to give those numbers meaning. Teamwork matters, especially between departments like FP&A and Treasury. AI can really help everyone get along and make sense of all those numbers. Plus, chatbots can answer your policy questions in a snap, making work life easier and more transparent.
Implementation is where the rubber meets the road. Clean data is a must, and choosing the right tools is crucial. Think about DataWheels—it works well with Excel and manages data smartly. There are huge benefits there!
Looking forward, we can’t ignore the new kids on the block: autonomous AI agents. They bring up some big ethical questions and could really change how finance and Treasury work down the line. So, keep your eyes open and your mind ready. AI’s about to make some big waves, and you’ll want to ride them, not get swept away!