Members in business: what are finance teams actually automating?

For years, we’ve seen reports about how much of finance and accounting can be automated. The scare stories that we used to see on the role of robots in finance has ebbed away in recent years, however, replaced with examples of how automation can improve the finance function and free up accountants to do more interesting and valuable work for the business.

Since the pandemic, technology adoption in organisations has accelerated, but what does this mean for finance function automation? We hear so much about this brave new world, but are teams actually using it?

We asked our panel of members in business how they’re using automation, and how they’d like to see it used in the future.

We’re pushing towards automation utopia

Farha Jamadar, finance manager, Todd Doors

Automation is an ongoing project. We’ve automated payroll, which was a fairly easy process as the functionality was pretty simple. We are automating the invoicing on the sales ledger and purchase ledger, using software that reads pdfs and processes invoices against the signed-off PO or when a delivery is signed for, it is automatically invoiced without the interference of people.

We’re mainly using external software, but they have to work with our processes and software. This is a big factor. Sometimes, you have accounts packages that cannot handle the automation alone and they need to be able to work and integrate with other software packages.

More standard, ‘off-the-shelf’ regular processes are a lot easier to automate as there is not a lot of variation. There are only a few ways it can go, rather than reinventing the wheel.

Without the force and support to lead it, change is an uphill struggle. You need a digital and adaptable mindset that needs to be led from the top. It is important to ensure culture is changed to embrace this change.

Finance’s future is that we work alongside automation. It changes and develops our roles. Utopia for finance is that transactional tasks are automated, and along with new current and relevant data, we can change our roles, help develop the business strategy and adapt to the ever-changing market. It’s essentially utilising a digital mindset and have more consulting and reviewing roles. I think the information finance users have are extremely important and that this needs to be exploited to the fullest in running a company.

We’re preparing to automate, but timing is everything

Andy Murray, finance lead, Manna Pro UK

As a Finance function, we do not have much automated at present. However, we do have some exciting future projects on the horizon in various transactional areas such as AR, Sales Invoicing, Issuing of customer statements and the chasing of overdue accounts – also on the AP side the automation of invoice entry.

We would certainly benefit from automating various duties within the AR/AP functions of the finance remit. Most importantly, from an efficiency and time management point of view, we consider that these tasks consume a considerable amount of time. This could save around 20% in weekly efficiency.

The main concerns have been around when best to implement these solutions. We need to ensure that the most suitable time in the month to transition across is chosen, which must avoid the month-end close period. Also, we will be building time into the plan to allow for any last-minute adjustments and time for any unforeseen issues which may arise. Above all, looking to mitigate any downtime any reduce and associates risks.

As well as exploring the two transactional areas above (AR/AP) for automation, I think in time we will look to discuss further potential projects around month-end Journal Entry & GL Account Reconciliations and how automation may be the key driver forward for these areas. Again, looking to improve time management and increase efficiency. There’s certainly lots more to explore and get our teeth stuck into.

The app market creates endless possibilities

Björgvin Vigfússon, Westmorland Linen Rental and Laundry

Within our finance function, we use a few automation solutions which Xero uses, either on its own or as an integration with other softwares. As an example, we require all our clients to sign up to Direct Debit and have integrated that service with Xero. All our invoices are paid on time and Xero also allocates the payments to the invoices.

This automation minimises the time spent on credit control and bank reconciliation. The finance function as a whole has seen a lot of automation in the last few years, and it seems like there is an app for every process an accountant needs to do, so it’s hard to mention just one aspect that is/would be ripe for automation. But it would bring joy to my little accounting life if setting up payments to regular suppliers could be easier, meaning the ones that don’t offer direct debit.

My biggest concern with automation is that if the system/process isn’t set up correctly in the beginning and only spotted down the line, it can be a headache to clean it up or rectify the errors.

I think the next step in automation will be to see how we can automate the invoicing process. But I think finding the perfect brew is a higher priority as things stand.

Mark Rowland is a journalist and former editor of Accounting Technician and 20 magazine.

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