Six examples of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) in finance and accounting teams that will reduce costs, improve accuracy, and enable your staff to focus on tasks that bring added value to your business.
In our experience, many organisations start their Robotic Process Automation (RPA) journey in their Finance and Accounting department. This provides the Chief Financial Officer or Financial Controller the opportunity to demonstrate their leadership by adopting RPA firstly in their business unit and then championing the initiative across the rest of the business. In terms of the benefit RPA brings to the Finance and Accounting department, not only does this reduce costs and improve accuracy, it also liberates your team from tedious, repetitive tasks and enables them to focus on analysing data for insight and other value adding tasks that can build a competitive advantage for your business.
The many challenges of the finance and accounting department
Given the demands placed on mid-market and SME businesses in today’s fast-changing world, CFOs and financial controllers are expected to take on increasingly important strategic roles. Bringing both their financial and commercial expertise to bear they will be asked to input to company strategy, advise on and lead investment plans – including technology investments – and put in place structures and budgets that deliver on the company’s objectives while minimising risk and maximising ROI and profit.
That’s quite a to-do list, particularly when the finance function they oversee must also keep the business operational by taking customer payments and making payments to suppliers, playing a key role in both the customer experience and the supply chain. In addition, there are the accounting processes of reconciliation, reporting, forecasting, and tax preparation to keep on top of.
And finally, to help them play their important strategic role, finance heads also need to get their hands on the right data to enable them to evaluate costs, suppliers, product lines, business models, supply chains, and risks. Across even a relatively small organisation that data could be in multiple systems, and in incompatible or unstructured formats, making finding and analysing it to turn it into usable insight quite a task.
Automate your problems away
Faced with these mounting challenges, and the need to meet them in a cost-effective manner, finance teams have used a combination of outsourcing repetitive, process-based work offshore, and ERP and other accounting software that enables staff to accomplish rote tasks more quickly.
Offshore outsourcing looks to have already hit the ceiling in terms of its potential to cut costs and comes with its challenges. On the software side, many established organisations have spent tens of thousands, over the years, in keeping these legacy systems fit for purpose. The truth is that while some workflows can be automated using APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) and systems integration, these are often costly to implement and inflexible when processes or systems need to change.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) automates repetitive tasks by training a software robot to perform them in the same way a human would – by accessing applications and conducting activities like clicking, typing, copying and pasting between applications, and so on. As such they require no APIs and are quick to set up and retrain when processes or systems change.
While RPA does improve productivity and deliver an ROI – due to lower transaction costs and improved accuracy and compliance – it also brings plenty of other benefits including freeing up staff to perform more added-value tasks. Let’s look at six broad categories of finance and accounting tasks which are particularly suited to RPA.
- Automating complex journal entries.
- Performing and documenting account reconciliations.
- Calculating and apply allocations.
- Maintaining fixed asset accounts.
- Processing supplier invoices.
- Performing 2 and or 3-way matching.
- Processing expense approval requests.
- Generate and validate invoices.
- Creating reports (accounts receivable, aging, credit holds).
Financial Planning and Analysis
- Building standard management reports.
- Consolidating and validating budget and forecast reports.
- Gathering and cleaning data for analysis.
- Harmonising data across multiple time keeping systems.
- Calculating deductions.
- Preparing external-reporting templates.
Let humans be humans, and robots be robots
Keeping things running is only one of any number of challenges facing CFOs and their finance and accounting teams. To have the strategic vision and input the business demands of the finance function, human staff need to be able to focus on more challenging, critical thinking tasks. Once properly set up and trained, software robots can do all this work faster, more accurately, and at a lower cost – allowing you to set your humans free to do the things they do best. Once you get a team member their own robot and let them remove the mundane task from their day, this brings them joy. That person becomes more productive and creates more value for your business.
David Barlow is the Co-Founder and Commercial Director, of Sherpa Works, Australia’s leading RPA services company proudly serving the SMB and Mid-market. David is particularly passionate about helping clients experience outrageous success with their Bot workforce.