Artificial intelligence: the role of evolution in decision-making

Published in The Telegraph 

As far as decision-making mechanisms go, there is no better example than the human brain, so artificial intelligence must evolve to emulate it. Sally Percy reports

Strategy matters in war. But behind every good strategy is good data. Take Korean War veteran and US Air Force officer John Boyd as an example.

He was tasked with analysing the outcome of dogfights – aerial battles between fighter planes conducted at close range – and come up with a way to save the lives of more American pilots. He did.

What Boyd created was a framework for decision-making that is known as the OODA loop. OODA refers to the recurring cycle of four actions: observe, orient, decide and act. He discovered that the pilots who came out of dogfights most successfully were those who had processed the loop as quickly and as often as possible.

Their experience of reacting to lots of different situations meant they could best adapt their battle strategies to unfolding events.

“What Boyd was telling us was that surviving, learning and adapting were key to winning,” says Antoine Blondeau, the co-founder and co-chairman of Sentient Technologies and the inventor of the natural language technology behind Siri, Apple’s intelligent personal assistant. “Since then, that framework has been pervasive within the US armed forces. If you train, train and train, you go through that loop as often as possible.”

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What does it take to become a successful finance leader?

Published in Economia 

Sally Percy shares some career-boosting tips from leading CFOs

Finance is one of the world’s most popular professions for good reason – numbers matter. They matter because they are valuable indicators of the health of governments, businesses, not-for-profit organisations and individuals. Get them right and they can promote confidence, investment and prosperity. Get them wrong and they can destroy careers, organisations and even lives

The overwhelming importance of numbers means that the CFOs of large companies are part of the bedrock of our society. The same goes for the partners of the top audit firms. But what kind of person do you need to be to work as a finance leader in an organisation that employs tens of thousands of people across the globe?

This was the question that I sought to answer in my book, Reach the Top in Finance: The Ambitious Accountant’s Guide to Career Success. For the book, I interviewed FTSE 100 CFOs, Fortune 500 CFOs and leaders from some of the top accountancy firms. Their combined experiences paint a very rich picture of just what it takes to operate at the highest echelons of the business world.

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The robots are coming

Published in The Treasurer

Will artificial intelligence erode the role of treasurers or boost their profile within business? Sally Percy investigates 

Read too many articles about artificial intelligence (AI) and you could come to the conclusion that humankind collectively is heading for a career dead end.

A 2013 paper by academics at the University of Oxford predicted that 47% of US jobs were at risk of being automated over the next 20 years – with the jobs affected ranging from taxi drivers through to accountants.

A year later, a joint report by the same university, together with Deloitte, predicted that 10 million British jobs could be taken over by computers and robots over the same period.

Then, a 2016 study by salary benchmarking site Emolument revealed that nearly half (47%) of people working in financial services in several different countries thought that technological innovations, such as automated trading platforms, were putting their jobs at risk.

With the use of AI within business set to increase dramatically over the coming decades, where does this leave the treasurer? Will the profession even exist in 2030 or will it have been consigned to the history books? Let’s find out.

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How can AI help shape a brighter future?

Published in The Telegraph 

Artificial intelligence could help us to live healthier, more fulfilling lives in future. So it’s time we lost the fear of AI. Sally Percy reports

Until now, humans have held sway as the most dominant force on Earth. Despite lacking some of the physical attributes of a host of other species, we have conquered the planet by virtue of our mighty minds.

Yet by 2025, a computer costing as little as $1,000 will have the equivalent processing speed of the human brain, according to Silicon Valley engineer and entrepreneur Peter Diamandis. And artificial intelligence systems are already faster and more accurate than humans when searching vast databases for anomalies or patterns in customer behaviour. They can also “learn” from what they have discovered and react to those findings.

Artificial intelligence potentially offers vast benefits to humankind. These range from improving medical diagnosis and treatment to caring for the elderly and making cities safer places.

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Are CFOs now ‘mini chief executives’?

Published in Raconteur’s The Future CFO supplement in The Times 

A successful chief financial officer now has to support the chief executive in developing company strategy as well as taking care of finance. Sally Percy reports

If you want proof of how far the role of chief financial officer or CFO has evolved from number cruncher to strategic adviser, talk to a headhunter about the briefs they get from chief executives.

“If you look at a job specification from ten years ago, everything that was on there then is still on there today,” says Mark Freebairn, partner and head of the financial management practice at executive search firm Odgers Berndtson. “But there are two more pages that weren’t there before and are there now.”

The pressure on companies to innovate and compete in an increasingly complex, fast-moving and transparent world has led to the chief financial officers of large businesses becoming more involved in driving the commercial activities of their organisations. So they are helping to improve the business, manage margins, assess potential new markets, make investment decisions and oversee mergers and acquisitions.

These are activities that all conceivably fall under the umbrella of strategy and require chief financial officers to possess a wide set of skills.

The scale to which the chief financial officer’s strategic remit has been expanded is clear from the briefs that Mr Freebairn gets, which often request what is essentially a “mini chief executive”. “CEOs say, ‘I need a CFO who will second-guess me because that will make my decision-making more robust. I need a commercial equal in that role’.”

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Banking regulations impacting businesses

Published in Raconteur’s Corporate Treasury supplement in The Times 

Since the 2008 recession, regulation of the financial services sector, backed up with big fines, has introduced caution, slowed up lending and had a knock-on effect throughout the economy. Sally Percy reports

Falling foul of regulators can be expensive as a string of banks have learnt to their cost. Research from policy resource centre Good Jobs First in June found that banks and other financial services firms globally had forked out more than $160 billion in fines since 2010. And that was before Deutsche Bank was told to pay $14 billion for misselling mortgage securities in the United States.

Companies are far less likely than banks to be hit with a fine the length of a telephone number. Nevertheless, treasurers still need to navigate the world of financial regulation carefully if they are to spare their employer bad press, strategic risks and unexpected penalties.

“Regulation is omnipresent,” says Richard Abigail, group treasurer of engineering consultancy Arup. “Much of the regulatory pressure on us comes through the banking sector. Regulations on the banks transfer on to corporates. We have to do more and more to be regulatory compliant.”

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