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Finance AI trends: filtering the hype to find the value

The artificial intelligence potential is real, but some of the bolder promises are not. Here’s your primer on what’s delivering results today — and what’s not.

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Finance AI trends preview
Finance AI trends preview

Finance AI trends: filtering the hype to find the value

The artificial intelligence potential is real, but some of the bolder promises are not. Here’s your primer on what’s delivering results today — and what’s not.

Deciphering AI dreams from reality.

The buzz around artificial intelligence in finance is undeniable, yet separating the wheat from the chaff in this rapidly evolving landscape can be difficult. While the potential of AI is immense, not every promise translates into tangible results.

This leads many to take a cautious approach to adopting AI, particularly for those companies outside the tech industry where practical applications aren’t always clear. However, AI is already one of the most transformative evolutions in modern business, and holding such technology at arm’s length wastes a golden opportunity to improve core finance operations.

To make it easier to understand and help bring innovation to your organization faster, we broke down common use cases of AI in finance for you. Here are some current trends around AI in spend management, where companies are seeing real value, and where finance leaders should temper their expectations.

AI permeates many areas of business today.

AI is already trusted by plenty of industries and companies, helping people accelerate workflows in their jobs while also giving companies new ways to provide value to their customers:

  • ChatGPT is a generative AI tool that helps users write and summarize documents, while GitHub CoPilot can help developers draft code and translate it into another programming language.

  • Machine learning (ML) is used by streaming services like Netflix and Spotify to analyze user behavior and make recommendations to millions of subscribers.

  • Large language models (LLMs) are used to train chatbots on volumes of product information quickly to help automate basic support functions.

  • Natural language processing (NLP) is used by Hex to work with data and describe SQL statements, making complex elements easier to interface with in-product.

Finance teams are primed to reap the benefits of AI, and the extensive availability of enterprise-ready AI applications should give finance leaders the confidence to explore similar investments.

So where can finance teams apply AI today to improve their expense management processes, enhance the employee experience, and drive accounting automation?

Listen: Lightcast controller Ron Cook says AI will help most in these areas 

What’s driving expense management results today?

Expense management solutions today are providing value by eliminating the tedium through AI-powered automation. These solutions:

  • Reduce manual data entry into accounting and ERP systems.

  • Automate receipt capture and expense memos.

  • Eliminate routine expense approvals for in-policy transactions.

AI-powered solutions also enable employee self-service for common T&E needs. Instead of managers answering the same questions over and over — Can I expense Wifi? When will a reimbursement hit my bank account? Which flight class can I book? — an AI-powered virtual assistant can answer for them.

Here are some areas where AI is making a significant difference in spend management today.

Take the grind out of compliance.
Between gathering all the required receipts and memos, getting the right approvals, and closing the books on time, employee expense compliance today is a slog. AI-powered spend management tools with embedded policies automate receipts for expenses, ensuring accuracy, completeness, and a faster close.

Discover 4 ways to control spend at scale using automation 

Improve internal expense support.
Reduce the burden on finance teams for enforcing and clarifying expense policies with a virtual expense assistant trained on LLMs. AI-enabled chatbots can answer employee questions in seconds, or respond to and execute commands to complete expenses. Finance teams save time on low-value support processes and employees get the information they need to complete expenses more efficiently.

Automate rules-based processes.
CFOs are tapping robotic process automation (RPA) solutions to automate routine, rules-based financial processes like data entry, invoice processing, reimbursements, and reconciliation, freeing up human resources for higher-value strategic activities. For some financial orgs, AI automates customer application and data-gathering processes so they can make an underwriting decision faster.

“Thanks to Brex’s automation capabilities, we can take a program and rules-based approach to our accounting processes instead of manual work. We've gone from spending over 20 hours on each month-end close for credit cards and reimbursements to under two hours.”

— Teddy Collins, VP of Corporate Finance, SeatGeek

Reduce risk to your business.
AI is increasingly used to detect and prevent financial fraud by detecting anomalies in banking transactions, payment methods, and other activities. CFOs and controllers can use AI-driven fraud detection to protect their organizations from evolving cyber threats. Brex’s AI-powered spend platform flags high-risk expenses, provides relevant context, and even suggests next steps.

“Traditional expense management requires you to chase money after it's been spent. Brex enables you to do the opposite — we’re clear about how money is being spent from the get-go.”

— Josh Pickles, Head of Global Strategic Sourcing and Procurement, DoorDash

Where to temper AI expectations.

If a company is telling you AI is replacing whole teams or processes, it’s likely not grounded in reality. That’s why the concept of AI can be overwhelming for many executives. Everyone is promising you a trip to the moon when right now, you’re just asking for a ride to the airport.

Here are a few AI promises that have been circulating, yet remain a ways off from full realization.

You still need accountants.
Eliminating a complete class of skilled work like accounting via some magic AI wand is an overpromise. While AI tools may have a significant impact on accountants’ work, many still require at least human intervention. If anything, AI can help accountants do more with less, using AI as an aid to focus on higher-value tasks like financial analysis and forecasting.

Read about the role of AI in the future of accounting 

You may still want to rebook that flight.
While AI can assist in many travel expense management areas, certain complex and context-specific tasks still require human oversight. An AI tool can probably rebook a canceled flight, but do you really want it to? Sure it might be in-policy, but it may not be a direct flight, on your preferred airline, or take into account other travel preferences. A lot of other tedious parts of T&E, however, can be automated by AI, including auto receipt capture and memos, travel communications, and per diem overage alerts.

You’re still in charge of the big decisions.
How do you avoid overreacting to every “insight” that an AI solution provides? By having people discern whether those insights are even relevant to your business. With AI-enabled finances, decision-making happens in real time so leaders have a more holistic accounting of their spend. Quicker access to more accurate data means decisions are being made and allows for more accurate forecasting.

“I felt like a lot of the spend management platforms we saw were doing nothing more for me than spitting out the same data about what we spent. … [Brex] makes it easier for our internal customers to see that data in real time instead of waiting until they get their monthly P&L from us to understand where they are against their budget.”

— Aaron Wilkins, Executive Vice President, Human-I-T

What to look for in an AI-powered spend platform.

Think you’re ready to start automating your travel and expense management workflows? Here are some considerations when choosing a vendor:

  • A shared experience: AI in finance should simplify processes for global employees and finance teams, not one or the other. Since spend management is everyone’s responsibility, every person who spends and manages money should use and benefit from AI-powered solutions, no matter where they are.

  • Data privacy: Finance leaders must ensure that AI and automation adhere to ethical standards and global data privacy regulations. They should be prepared for evolving legal and ethical considerations related to AI and automation in finance.

  • Strong integrations: An AI-powered spend platform must work with your other financial tools, like ERP or accounting systems, or else work will remain in silos. Robust integrations connect solutions to bring you holistic data views.

Start your AI journey today.

When it comes to finance AI trends, it’s imperative to understand what’s driving results today and what has the potential to drive results in the future. AI today is an essential tool for your teams to reduce expense busywork, improve employee compliance, and free up time and resources for more meaningful work.

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