John Verver, CPA CA, CISA, CMC

Advisor to ACL

    

Successful organizations know that finance and accounting teams excel at more than just data entry and repetitive processing tasks. And because of that, many organizations are increasingly turning to automation to better equip these teams.

According to CFO Magazine, it’s expected that robotics will automate or eliminate up to 40% of transaction accounting work by 2020. But don’t panic! While it might initially seem to be a threat to some finance jobs, robotic process automation (RPA) actually lets finance teams refocus their time and attention on higher-level activities—activities that require professional judgment and human skills, unlike data entry and repetitive processing.

In fact, there are certain finance tasks that just can’t be automated. Things like complex budgeting, taxation, balance sheet reporting, and financial reporting and analysis. All of these tasks require deep interpretation and intense analysis that only people can perform.

Because the computer is now dealing with the high volumes of routine processing and the people are focused on things that require professional judgment, there’s a good chance the finance teams have less stress and gain more satisfaction from their jobs. For example, the table below shows some of the benefits that can come from implementing RPA.


How robotic process automation leads to greater job satisfaction

Which finance tasks should you automate?

Many aspects of finance and accounting systems are already automated (e.g., payroll calculations or postings of entries in the general ledger). But there are many activities that currently require human involvement which can be automated (e.g., procure-to-pay, reconciliations, data input and extraction, etc.).

How do you know if your tasks are prime for automation? They are:

  • rules-based
  • consistent, with repetitive steps
  • template-driven, with data entered into specific fields.

Thankfully, many tasks in finance and accounting fit the above criteria. Some finance and accounting processes ripe for automation include:

  • account reconciliations
  • transaction matching
  • closed tasks and reporting
  • daily high-volume reconciliations
  • account balance fluctuation analysis
  • journals
  • intercompany transactions.

Getting more specific, you can apply automation to:

  1. Bank reconciliation. Reconciling accounts is an enormous headache for organizations. Robots can go through thousands of transactions per minute, reducing processing times from days to minutes.
  2. Contract terms. Some vendor contract data needs to be validated to make sure it’s compliant with contract terms, a tedious process that can be automated by robots.
  3. Supplier onboarding. Onboarding new suppliers is a manual and time-consuming process. A robot could easily vet new suppliers with a complete report on things like tax data or credit scores.
  4. Price comparisons. A robot can track price fluctuations and changes automatically.
  5. Data extraction for accounting close. Journal transactions must be reconciled. A robot can consolidate transactions and reconcile them in your ERP, with minimal human intervention.

Review your processes and determine challenges

The main challenge for any finance organization considering process automation is deciding where to start. As a first step, we’d suggest a review of all processes involving repetitive human activities in the finance and accounting areas.

Look at the areas that are the most labor-intensive or involve repetitive, rules-driven work. Find areas where automation can clearly improvement manual tasks without too much complexity. Often, the return on investment from trying to automate an overly-complex activity just doesn’t make economic sense.

To help you get started on your journey to automation, you’ll want to:

  1. Build a list of your time-consuming, repetitive tasks. Begin by identifying all the spreadsheets you use on a daily or weekly basis. Think about how much work is involved in each of the processes.
  2. Calculate the hours. Now create an estimate of how many hours are spent on the tasks associated with data collection, manual analysis, and troubleshooting data issues.
  3. Determine how accurate your data is. Ask yourself how confident you are in the accuracy of the reports based on your data collection and analysis.
  4. Think about your challenges. Do you encounter document version issues? Are you meeting management demands? Delivering results on time?

Once you’ve completed the above, it’s time to critically assess your processes, the goals of the finance team, and how those fit with the overall organizational goals. Think about how automation could be applied to which processes and tasks and where it will have the biggest impact.

Now you’ve identified the opportunities and problem areas where automation can help, the next steps will be to start looking for automation solutions/technology, like ACL Robotics.

This blog article is the first in a two-part series about automating finance functions. In the second article we take a look at the typical challenges of implementing increased automation, including change management, team skillsets, securing management support, and data access.

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