As we stride into the fourth industrial revolution, finance teams can work alongside machines to drive strategy and value. And, as the war for talent rages investing in technology is crucial to attract and retain skilled workers
The argument that robots will replace human jobs misses the crucial point that machines empower workers with a pulse. It has been this way for hundreds of years – since the original industrial revolution in the mid-18th century when the Luddites, led by Ned Ludd, a Leicester weaver fearful of change, attacked factories and their owners. However, it soon became obvious man worked much better alongside machine.
Now, as we stride into the fourth industrial revolution, which uses modern smart technology to automate traditional manufacturing and industrial practices, robots are taking over more menial, repetitive tasks. This capability frees up workers to be more human. For finance teams especially, this automation of processes enables them to be more human and drive value and strategy – here follow five ways how.
1. Paper processes are old news
In the finance world, paper has been essential for centuries – but in the digital age, we can speed up processes, and save the trees, argues Nitin Purwar, India-based industry practice director of banking at UiPath. “Within finance, data-intensive and repetitive tasks are commonplace,” he says. “Often further weighed down by legacy systems, paper-based documents and unstructured data, these processes can take up a large proportion of a professional’s day.”
Purwar argues that “this work isn’t what humans are best at and often isn’t what we enjoy doing. By automating these processes, finance professionals can be freed to spend more time on value-added, strategic activities that require judgement and skill, thus enhancing the employee experience all while saving the department time, money and improving the accuracy of processes.”
2. Manual ways of working are highly inefficient – and a turn off for talent
Businesses that embrace automation stand to gain a competitive advantage – not least when it comes to attracting and retaining talent. Adobe’s Future of Time study, published in late August, finds that UK business employees waste more than a day a week on low-value tasks that should be automated. Tellingly, almost two-thirds (59%) of respondents are seeking new jobs with better technology to reclaim work-life balance.
Purwar from UiPath uses an example to explain the benefits of automation in this regard.“One infrastructure solutions firm we work with used to process all invoices manually, printing, signing, scanning and uploading 400,000 invoices a year. Now, a robot affectionately named Archie processes all invoices digitally, freeing up on average 11 minutes per invoice of time that employees can now spend focusing on value-added tasks instead. That amounts to thousands of hours per year saved.”
There is more potential to realise, which is why organisations should double down on automated solution. Kevin Kimber, managing director of global accounts receivable at BlackLine, suggests that while many businesses seek robotic process automation, now “advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning take what is possible to the next level”.
3. Financial leaders can show their human skills and improve collaboration
Ash Finnegan, digital transformation officer at Conga, which provides commercial operations transformation solutions, points out that the pandemic has forced financial leaders to show their human sides and manage change.
“Out of necessity, most digital transformation journeys have been accelerated, with artificial intelligence being a major focus,” she says. “Financial leaders have invested heavily in AI and wider automation technology, entirely restructuring their back office to deliver their services remotely.”
Neil Murphy, global vice president at ABBYY, a digital intelligence company, posits workers who embrace automation can “work more efficiently, collaborate better, and ease the burden of administration in their day-to-day roles. Deploying AI-powered robots gives this opportunity, gifting finance teams more time to focus on more creative, problem-solving tasks and alleviate the pressure. Now more than ever, it’s time to put the human touch back into the finance.”
4. Automation elevates financial professionals to become trusted advisors
Glen Foster, director of small business and partners at accounting software company Xero, says “time truly is money” for financial professionals. Xero data shows these workers can use up to 30% of their time on manual data entry – equivalent to 1.5 days a week.
By contrast, automation and digital software can free up most of that time. “Cloud accounting tools allow you to automate time-consuming tasks like data entry, bank reconciliation and payments so that you can spend more time advising, analysing data and focusing on growth,” he says.
“Providing advice and insights on financials is more valuable to clients and businesses than manual, repetitive data entry skills. This ultimately sets accountants and finance professionals up as trusted advisors.”
5. Improve relationships with customers – and add value
A FreeAgent survey from 2020 calculated that 81% of accountants have discovered that using automated software has freed up an average of two working hours a week. The same report states that this time saved could generate an additional £68,000 in revenue a year.
John Miller, chief operations officer of Addition, a London-based financial services firm, adds: “Automation has allowed humans to do what they do best: offer advice to the client, knowing that the routine tasks are done robustly and accurately.”
This article first appeared in BlackLine’s special report, Optimising the accounts receivable department, published by Raconteur in November 2021