Insight & Analysis

Microsoft’s Connie Leung explains how generative AI can transform treasury

Published: Aug 2023

As Microsoft prepares to roll out its copilot technology, Connie Leung, Senior Director, Financial Services Business Lead, Asia, tells Treasury Today how the generative AI tools will bring a whole new perspective to corporate treasury teams who depend on the company’s essential office tools.

Microsoft’s range of generative AI-powered Copilots attached to its best-known products like Outlook, PowerPoint, Excel, Power BI and cloud services like Teams, will transform data analysis, introducing a new level of productivity for corporate treasury.

So-called Copilots, aka smart office assistants, embed generative AI into these treasury staples to provide additional summarising capabilities, market research and draft responses in a matter of seconds.

“We went to a treasury event recently and they all loved it,” enthuses Connie Leung, Senior Director, Financial Services Business Lead, Asia at Microsoft in conversation with Treasury Today in Hong Kong. Responsible for accelerating digital transformation with Microsoft technology in the cloud, data and AI platforms, and a veteran of Hong Kong’s fintech scene, Leung is convinced the Copilot can profoundly boost treasury productivity.

For example, using the Copilot in Microsoft 365 enables people “to go through emails and prioritise the most important, so you don’t have to read them all,” she says, offering a counter argument to fears that AI will see workers flooded with AI-generated emails and documents, potentially making them less productive.

Applied to Power BI, Microsoft’s data visualisation software, the copilot draws on data to provide a dashboard and summaries, offering comparative insights in minutes which may have previously taken days. Interactive dashboards allow treasury to ask questions of the data, she explains. “Treasury teams ask the data questions, and it responds in seconds – that’s the power of data.”

Elsewhere, Microsoft Copilot in Excel can analyse trends in the data purely by asking it a question; create a timeline for a product launch or in-depth cash forecasts drawn from past data. While in Teams, Copilot can extract key data and action points and assign to relevant people right after leaving a meeting.

Leung believes the technology will help reduce much of the drudgery and repetitive tasks currently handled by treasury teams, significantly increasing efficiency. “Microsoft Copilot is about giving you the right data and insights from information to inform decision making.”

Getting started

The first step for treasury teams introducing the technology involves pulling data out of silos and putting it into one single location. “Companies need to become data-driven organisations,” she says, using the example of a bank holding data on a single customer’s mortgage, personal loan and credit cards in different databases to illustrate the challenge many companies still face today. “We find that there are often different sources of data for treasury, and people question which dashboard is the right dashboard. Companies need to create one single source of truth.”

Leung recommends treasurers seeking to introduce the technology start small. Typically, her Asia-based team begin by introducing AI at a board and CEO-level, explaining its capability and how unifying a company’s data estate is the best stepping off point for AI. These discussions focus on the problems treasury teams are trying to solve, while her team come up with different use cases. “If you want to serve your customer well, you need to understand their needs and target any marketing or product development to have a specific impact.”

Of course, rolling out the technology requires treasury teams to embrace Microsoft’s suite of tools. “I can’t give you Copilot in Microsoft Outlook if you aren’t using Microsoft 365,” she laughs. These early conversations also focus on change management, and the extent to which treasury is prepared to embrace change. The regulatory landscape and complexity are other early discussion points. “We find that people want low complexity but high impact,” she says, adding that the technology involves people learning how to ask the right prompts.

As for the cost to customers that sign up, she says it varies depending on IT readiness and the quality of data. “Introduction is really step by step.”

Although she says it is important to build governance around AI, she insists Microsoft’s AI solutions fit existing security and data policies. “Microsoft Copilot isn’t focused on making decisions for you, but about surfacing more information and empowering everyone to make informed decisions.”

One of the fears of AI technology is that it will lead to job losses, but Leung argues it will allow treasury teams to focus more on value-add tasks, and ultimately increase job satisfaction. “We are really focused about getting more from the resources and people you have, not in reducing the number of people,” she says.

She points to findings from Microsoft’s recent Work Trend Index which found managers across 31 countries and various industries are more interested in using AI to boost productivity and employee wellbeing, than using it to reduce headcount. Reducing headcount was last on the list of what managers said they would value from AI, she says.

Still, as AI systems evolve, she predicts the nature of some jobs will change and new jobs will be created. “No one can say with certainty how the job market will be impacted by AI. Microsoft is committed to developing this technology responsibly with an understanding of its impact on society, including having the skills and training to ensure workers are prepared for the future and that there is enough talent available for critical jobs.”

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