The view from the President: A responsible digital future

CIMA President Nick Jackson, FCMA, CGMA

'While the shock of COVID-19 disruption is still fresh, it's easy to understand the imperative to change.'

It's hard to think of digitalisation as warm and cuddly — however hard you might try. If you take human input out of a process, it somehow becomes cold and unfeeling. But if I'm honest, in some cases removing the human isn't a bad thing. As far as responsible financial leadership is concerned, it can sometimes be a very good thing.

Let's take bias, a very human trait. As we automate processes, biases can creep (or even gallop) in, skewing outcomes in ways presumably unintended by their creators. For example, in 2018, it was reported that Amazon stopped using a hiring program after finding it favoured words more often used in men's CVs than women's and so led to more men passing the initial automated applicant screening. The bias had clearly had a significant impact. To stop that type of thing from happening, a tremendous amount of money and effort is being invested in removing biases to make these shortcuts fairer than the human processes they are replacing. If you want to read more about this area, The Alan Turing Institute has some helpful suggestions, available at

As an organisation, the Association champions the move to a digital future but recognises that with that move comes responsibility and the crucial need for the human dimension. This presents a great opportunity to establish trust. If you can show your customers and other stakeholders that you are operating responsibly in a technology environment which is opaque to some, you will cement trustworthiness. Why is that particularly important? As the communications firm Edelman found, customers say trust is second only to price in their buying decisions. It's a good example of something intangible, trust, having an impact on something very tangible — the bottom line.

When CIMA developed the Digital Mindset Pack, the aim was to highlight ways that the business landscape has become dramatically different from the one many of us entered, and to provide support to meet those challenges. It reflected a finance profession that's changing from being a cost centre to becoming a driver of value, and technology is at the heart of that change.

Our stewardship, and indeed leadership, of change means we have a perfect opportunity to embed values into our value creation. Whether it's ensuring that your hiring algorithm is as bias-free as possible, or scrupulously following data laws, use this phase to really think about the type of company you want to be and start consciously putting your values into these new systems. This will also help to positively differentiate your organisation from those that do the same thing, perhaps even have the same technology but are not as successful in stating and living their values. Perhaps it's even time to revisit your values statement (if you have one) and involve your staff with co-creating something which works for you and the new landscape.

This approach will also benefit your pipeline. Interestingly, like their Millennial predecessors, the most recent cohort entering the workplace, Gen Z, is interested in wider societal issues such as climate change, healthcare, and unemployment. Deloitte found that to win the hearts and attention of Gen Z, companies and employers will need not only to highlight their values but also live them. Saying one thing while you do another will not cut it with them. To Gen Z, a company's ethics are much more important now.

Finally, build in these changes for the long term. While the shock of COVID-19 disruption is still fresh, it's easy to understand the imperative to change. As that fades, you may find it easier to carry on business as usual, but if you value the sustainability of your business, think twice.


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