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How AI Can Power Finance Productivity—and Why Doing More With Less Matters

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Organizations today are being asked to do more with less.  

With geopolitical events continuing to threaten the economy, job markets uncertain and inflation rates still high, market conditions are unstable.  

Businesses are wary—and for good reason. They want to continue to grow while staying resilient to potential market changes—often without extra resources to apply. 

For FP&A teams, that means higher workloads as they provide the data and insights their leaders need to chart the company’s path forward. But it also means they’re doing it short-staffed—putting finance teams at a disadvantage as they try to balance company objectives with market realities. 

So, what do you do? 

How do you boost your finance team’s productivity and keep up with your organization’s needs? How do you continue to look forward, empowering growth goals, while keeping up with the day-to-day functions that are part of any finance department’s role?  

That’s where generative AI can help. 

“Artificial intelligence won't replace FP&A teams,” says Domenic Colangelo, Manager of FP&A at Vena. “It just helps us and supports us in getting through a lot more data quicker and being able to turn around work so that we can then focus our time on the things that matter—and on supporting the business with additional new analysis and insights and scenarios.”  

In other words, by applying AI to everyday use cases for FP&A, finance teams can begin to do more with less—enhancing finance productivity and focusing on more high-value tasks.  

Let’s look at why doing more with less is key to FP&A teams today—and where generative AI fits into the picture. 

Key Takeaways 

  • There are many “low-value” tasks within finance’s responsibilities—like data gathering, ad-hoc reporting and searching for information—that can be time wasters.
  • By taking over the low-value work that’s consuming finance teams’ time, artificial intelligence—and particularly generative AI—can help empower productivity in FP&A.
  • By freeing up this time, FP&A professionals can focus their efforts on more strategic work that has a direct impact on business growth.
  • Vena Copilot is a generative AI Complete Planning assistant purpose-built to empower FP&A teams and the organizations they support. 

Doing More With Less 

The uncertainty of the current market and economic instability over recent years have put pressure on FP&A teams to provide strategic insights to the rest of the business in real time to guide decision making and keep the organization on track. 

Many businesses rely on their FP&A team to answer key “what if” questions that help them determine what to do next in the current climate. 

These may include, as Domenic recounts: “What if we want to implement something else? Or what if there's a fundamental change in our key drivers of the business? If sales slow, what happens? Or if sales increase, how does it impact the rest of the flow of the business? Where are the costs increasing?”  

Despite a turbulent 2023, many businesses have aggressive growth targets going into this year. In fact, when The CFO Alliance surveyed middle market finance leaders, over 30% predicted double-digit revenue growth in 2024, with 40% expecting double-digit EBITDA growth. 

And, as a final point of pressure, many FP&A teams are short-staffed as well—a result of both resource restrictions and a shortage of talent overall. When we polled business and finance professionals in 2022 for our State of Strategic Finance industry report, 33% named a hyper-competitive labor market as a top challenge. And the same 2024 CFO Alliance survey cited above showed that most mid-market CFOs are working one or two people down, even though 42% expect an increase in workload this year.  

This conflicting set of circumstances begs the question: how do you continue that growth trajectory while remaining agile to the changes underway? And how do you do all of that with fewer resources to draw from? 

Finance teams have no choice but to become more efficient to deliver more value with the headcount they have. And that’s where AI comes in. “I think it will enable FP&A teams to do exactly that—just do more with less,” Domenic says. 

But to understand the best AI use cases for FP&A, we first need to take a look at where finance teams are spending their time—and where they’re wasting it. 

The Biggest Time Wasters for Finance 

Modern FP&A teams are partners to the rest of the business, contributing to the strategic goals and insights that help organizations thrive. 

Core processes like forecasting and scenario analysis help you look forward, to better understand where the company is going. Budgeting and variance analysis help determine whether you’re staying on track and let you demonstrate your current position to all the stakeholders involved. 

But along the way, there’s a lot of low-value work that FP&A teams find themselves tasked with as well. And those jobs, often time-consuming in their own right, can take away from the more high-value efforts. 

For instance: 

Data Gathering 

Data gathering and data manipulation can take up a lot of finance teams’ time, Domenic points out. In fact, FP&A employees today spend a full 75% of their time gathering data. “The key part is getting the right data, accurate data,” he adds. “Then you end up having to spend a lot of time just manipulating it so you can work with it, or combining data sets because they are related to each other.” 

Being able to move straight to the insights without having to do all that data gathering or manipulation would be a time saver, he adds. And any tools or processes that help teams resolve those data issues, automate their data processes and help them ensure data accuracy and accessibility can ultimately save time. 

Ad Hoc Reporting 

As the keepers of much of their organization’s performance data, FP&A teams are often approached with ad hoc requests for reports that take them away from their day-to-day jobs. 

They can spend days digging through the data for the information they need as they put together reports to provide to executives, department heads, board members or other stakeholders.  

These reports ultimately help those stakeholders apply data to their decision making and move the business forward more strategically. But, the effort it takes to produce them on short notice can also negatively impact finance productivity, taking away from FP&A’s already long list of priorities. 

Searching for Information  

In addition to those ad hoc reporting requests, finance teams often find themselves digging into data to find answers to questions from across the organization, or looking for the information they need to build out their financial analysis or planning. 

But often those answers can be difficult to find, spread across multiple source systems and often formatted in ways that are unorganized or inconsistent. And when everything is changing so quickly, that does more than waste finance teams’ time. It slows down the entire organization and makes it harder to make real-time decisions and maintain a competitive edge. 

How Generative AI Can Help 

“In the realm of finance, AI stands to be a game changer,” Delbridge Solutions’ Chief Operating Officer Harjot Ghai told us. But as recently as May 2023, when we polled finance and business professionals during our Excelerate Summit, a full 74% of respondents said they hadn’t yet implemented any AI tools into their immediate team. 

And that’s despite the fact that AI has an impressive ability to take over many of the low-value tasks that have been wasting finance and FP&A teams’ time. A 2023 study of generative AI-based conversational assistants by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that AI boosted productivity in some areas of business by an average of 14%. 

AI's ability to dig through vast amounts of data quickly and analyze it in real time makes it particularly ideal for finance teams and the large datasets they deal with.  

 Poll Results of The Top Benefits Finance and Business Professionals See in AI
When we polled business and finance professionals at Vena’s 2023 Excelerate Summit, 44.5% said that the most appealing benefit of AI for them was the improved productivity and efficiency it offers. 

Being able to interrogate your data in real time with generative AI can help your FP&A team stay more agile—a plus in today’s ever-changing market. This also means your team becomes more productive, by: 

  • Answering stakeholder questions faster (or taking this task off your plate entirely by enabling stakeholders across the business to ask questions to the chat assistant themselves)
  • Producing ad-hoc reports more easily
  • Quickly identifying trends or anomalies
  • Sorting through and analyzing data faster  

“I think AI can help us tweak assumptions and give us a start on those inputs to our planning and modeling,” Domenic adds. “And by doing so, it can enable finance teams to get to the high-value analysis quicker.” 

While AI can’t (and shouldn’t) replace finance teams for those higher-value roles, by taking on the lower-value tasks it gives you more time to spend on analysis and strategy. And in doing so, AI empowers the entire organization to meet its goals and stay on top of market changes.  

But of course, there are risks that come along with using generative AI—and not all AI solutions are created equally. Choosing an AI solution from a vendor you already trust can help ensure you’re getting a tool you can rely on—with fewer risks to worry about. 

That’s where Vena Copilot comes in. 

Trusted AI for FP&A With Vena Copilot 

Vena Copilot is Vena’s new Complete Planning AI assistant for FP&A teams. Leveraging Microsoft Azure Open AI, Vena Copilot combines Microsoft’s world-leading AI with Vena’s category-leading FP&A expertise to improve your team’s productivity and unlock the strategic potential of your entire business. 

Specifically, Vena Copilot acts as an extension of your FP&A team, using the most intuitive interface there is (natural language) to gather data, generate reports, analyze trends, optimize forecasts, answer complex business questions and more.  

What’s more, you can train Vena Copilot to meet your unique business needs and use case requirements, with the platform becoming smarter over time as it learns more about your business. 

“We want to enable finance teams to basically build a “copilot” that's specific to them,” says Anton Medvedev, Product Manager, Data Insights, at Vena. “It’s really all about enabling our business stakeholders to get their own insights.” 

Vena Copilot provides industry-leading generative AI enterprise security, compliance and privacy capabilities driven by ethical principles—including role access controls and prompt compliance management. This enables finance organizations to deploy it responsibly within compliance requirements—all without IT, data scientists or AI engineers involved. 

“Vena Copilot basically allows all of our users in Vena to be able to draw out their own insights regardless of their technical acumen,” Anton adds. “So, you don't have to be an expert finance user to do analysis in Vena. You can be someone who's not very technical at all.” 

Maximizing Your Team’s Potential 

In the current business environment, the demands on FP&A teams are only growing, as more areas of the company require their strategic input. But as finance teams' resources aren’t growing to match, they’ll need to create that capacity in other ways. 

Generative AI can help them do just that. 

AI has the power to drastically improve finance productivity and take on many of the low-value tasks FP&A teams are often saddled with. This ultimately frees up your time to play a more strategic role across your whole business and enables the kind of decision making that drives higher profitability.  

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