Microsoft introduces Copilot AI chatbot for finance workers

Charles Lamanna, corporate vice president for business applications and platforms at Microsoft, speaks at a press event in San Francisco on Feb. 28, 2024.

Jordan Novet | CNBC

Microsoft on Thursday announced that it will release a Copilot chatbot that can perform key tasks for people working in finance. The software company will first offer the tool in public preview. Pricing details will follow.

Many business software providers, including HubSpot and Salesforce, have been working to supercharge existing products with generative artificial intelligence, in the hope of making clients more efficient. The craze began after startup OpenAI in 2022 launched the ChatGPT chatbot, which can spit out natural-sounding text or other content with a few words of human input.

The typical company consists of a variety of groups in which employees perform specialized work. “We want every one of the departments to be enabled and enriched with a Copilot,” Charles Lamanna, a Microsoft corporate vice president, said in an interview with CNBC in San Francisco on Wednesday.

Microsoft already has a Copilot for general-purpose industrial use in Office applications, and it has released Copilots designed for sales and customer-service workers.

Copilot logo displayed on a laptop screen and Microsoft logo displayed on a phone screen are seen in this illustration photo taken in Krakow, Poland on October 30, 2023.

Jakub Porzycki | Nurphoto | Getty Images

The Copilot for finance will initially run a variance analysis, reconcile data in Excel and speed up the collections process in Outlook. The software can draw on information stored in SAP and in Microsoft Dynamics 365. Additional features will come to the finance Copilot later this year, Lamanna said.

The Japanese advertising agency Dentsu will use the Copilot for finance tasks, Lamanna said.

Microsoft said its finance department provided input into the development of the new Copilot and that it’s seen some early benefits from using it.

Comparing data taken from different systems is “something every finance team on the planet does a lot of,” said Cory Hrncirik, modern finance lead in Microsoft’s office of the chief financial officer. A couple of thousand people on a financial planning and analysis team each spend one or two hours doing reconciliation each week, and with the new Copilot, that takes more like 10 or 20 minutes per week, he said.

The idea is to help these employees spend fewer hours on tedious tasks and provide time for more engaging work that can contribute more to the company. But Microsoft’s finance employees aren’t required to use the new Copilot, Hrncirik said.

If many finance professionals in a given company take advantage of those automations, though, the company might be able to close its books more quickly.

“That’s one of the big pitches for CFOs,” Lamanna said.

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