'Business leaders have a duty to help their employees make sense of the changes that automation and AI are bringing.'
Ethics has always been a critical issue for CIMA and its members; our Code of Ethics is the bedrock of the CGMA Competency Framework, and ethical behaviour is the basis of all that we stand for and do.
In our role as trusted professionals, we lead by example. This means that we need to both act ethically and be perceived as acting ethically.
I believe that for today's management accountants — and students on the path to qualifying — ethics will take on a role that extends far beyond that of the past 100 years.
Since CIMA's formation in 1919, there have been waves of radical technological advances: from basic accounting machines in the 1920s to the emergence of the desktop computer in the 1980s and, in the 1990s, the ability to analyse and use big data.
However, it's the most recent development, of artificial intelligence (AI), that has probably the most profound implications — for business, for people, and for ethical decision-making.
According to a Deloitte survey, early adopters of AI across the world believe it is "very" or "critically" important to their company's success today. Drilling down into the report, the executives surveyed say the strategic importance of AI to their business success will increase substantially over the next two years. This shift differs according to country. So, 14% of China's executives say AI is critically important to today's success, rising to 42% in two years' time; in Australia the shift is from 12% today to 29%; and in Canada, from 5% to 27%.
While AI can bring many advantages to finance functions and businesses more widely, it can also go wrong, as EY points out in its report How Do You Teach AI the Value of Trust?: It can malfunction, be corrupted, or take on the algorithm-builders' biases. In addition to biases, AI introduces other considerations of moral behaviour — respect, fairness, and transparency, for example — in a way that earlier technologies have not.
Throughout the huge tech advances of the 20th century, the employment-to-population ratio has — perhaps counterintuitively — increased, professor David Autor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology pointed out in his 2015 paper "Why Are There Still So Many Jobs?".
Whether AI will be a part of that trend is not yet clear, although the World Economic Forum is confident that robotisation will lead to more rather than fewer jobs. Its report The Future of Jobs predicts that robots may create 133 million new roles by 2022 in place of the 75 million that may be displaced.
As well as impacting business, AI will make its mark on society more widely — and corporate leaders need a voice at the table with governments and regulators to ensure that those responsible for the technology are also accountable for it.
I agree with EY global assurance innovation leader Jeanne Boillet's view that boards need "to take a proactive role in understanding how AI is being used across their business operations and its impact on their risk management and finance functions".
Ethical leadership is important in a further way: Business leaders have a duty to help their employees make sense of the changes that automation and AI are bringing. These changes require people to adopt new ways of working and a mindset shift to learn the new skills to deal with increased complexity.
In a similar way, CIMA and the Association recognise the duty we have to provide the right learning resources for our members. Our CGMA Store — at cgmastore.com — contains many resources that will ensure you are equipped with the skills to navigate this fast-changing technology. I recommend them to you.
Keep in touch
Follow me on Twitter: @CIMA_President