Technology & Innovation

5 manual tasks finance teams can automate right now

Manual tasks are the bane of many finance teams - but they don't have to be. Learn how automation can help your team say goodbye to manual processing.

Managing processes can be time-consuming for finance teams, especially with the need to issue and process invoices, keep track of budgets and create contracts – and more.

So what better way for your finance team to scale back on everyday administrative tasks than to automate them? This will give you more time to focus on strategy, growth, managing your team’s needs and helping the business to perform well.

Incorporating automation technologies into your financial processes can help to increase agility, lower costs, improve productivity, reduce delays, minimise errors, and ultimately improve customer satisfaction.

Also, why not go one step further and create an automation strategy? This will allow you to systematically apply the right tools to optimise the benefits of these technologies.

Make a shift away from manual processes

Bob Monio, commercial product management director at Kofax, a US-based process automation software provider, says: “No matter how skilled an accounting department may be, any system that relies on manually inputting data from paper is slow and subject to human error.

“Every time a piece of paper changes hands, the opportunity to misread, misplace or misunderstand something is introduced. For a company that handles tens of thousands of invoices per month, even a small margin of error can result in huge losses.”

He adds: “Manual processing also leads to a lack of control and visibility to management, leaving them unable to make informed decisions to effectively lead their team, as well as creating an environment vulnerable to fraud.

Business growth, mergers and extension of central locations can lead to even the best manual processing systems becoming clumsy, unwieldy and expensive to operate.

“Accounts payable teams can overcome many of these issues with the adoption of intelligent automation such as cognitive document automation, which in turn leverages the principles of AI [artificial intelligence], pattern recognition, natural language processing and machine learning.”

Five manual tasks your finance team can automate

Ready to improve the productivity of your financial team but not sure where to start? Here are five tasks you can start automating now.

1. Invoice processing

Processing invoices can often be a lengthy process for any finance team, so adopting robotic process automation (RPA) simplifies and streamlines these tasks.

Steve Orrill, partner account manager at V1, says: “[RPA] seamlessly integrates into financial management systems to intelligently digitise how finance teams work with invoices.

“It is able to read, interpret, verify and validate invoices before they are posted to purchase ledgers automatically.

“This can address the concerns around avoidable time and cost. In fact, an organisation typically processing 50,000 annual transactions can save as many as 3,750 hours and £86,000 annually.”

How automating invoice processing can save time

Woldmarsh is one business that can attest to the time and cost savings of automation in the finance function. The membership organisation for farmers needed to automate its invoice processing to increase efficiency and accuracy, while at the same time reduce costs.

Hazel Copeland, CFO at Woldmarsh, says: “We automate invoice processing to increase efficiency and accuracy, while reducing costs. It is simple to use and intuitive for our staff.

“RPA is reducing our reliance on people and increasing efficiencies for both our organisation but also for our members [farmers].

“For example, despite the fact we are processing 25,000 more invoices per annum on behalf of our farmers, we have been able to save costs by reducing our staff levels from four to two part-timers.

“We have increased our workload by 14%, yet still saved on the number of people required.”

2. Document management

Paper-based working is still part of a finance team’s everyday routine in 2020. However, RPA can be used to cut back on filing and storing office documents by capturing, storing, authorising, delivering and managing key business documents in one place, V1’s Orrill points out.

By replacing paper-based processes with electronic procedures, you will eliminate the need for printing, posting and manual filing of documents. Automated document management also gives you greater control and visibility across the business.

And, if RPA is cloud-connected, users can even benefit from depositing documents from a tablet or mobile phone. You’ll also finally be able to get rid of that office filing cabinet.

3. Creating compliance and regulatory frameworks

One of the main problems your team may face is creating complex documents quickly and efficiently while ensuring that all information included is correct and compliant.

Documents such as loan applications can be particularly difficult to navigate, as they require a large amount of data and must adhere to strict regulations.

Document automation software can help you create watertight contracts in less time than it would take to do so manually. By using a sophisticated template to create error-free documents, you can mitigate risk and save employee resources.

Nigel Richards, senior project manager at HotDocs by AbacusNext, says: “One of the overheads and risks in many businesses concerns the accuracy, cost and efficiency of creating documents, whether they be employee contracts, sales contacts or non-disclosure agreements.

“Errors in sales agreements can be costly errors indeed. This is one of the reasons many businesses turn to document assembly.”

4. Bookkeeping

Bookkeeping can be an arduous task for any finance team but it is integral to any small business. There is a lot of manual work involved in inputting data into a computer system and there is little room for error.

Why not use digital bookkeeping tools that can help you with the task?

They use machine learning to process financial information from different sources in order to digitise and categorise information. And, in so doing, this helps to improve productivity for those people using them.

Automating bookkeeping could save your businesses time and money, reducing the time your financial team (or external bookkeeper, if you’re using one) spends on admin.

Small businesses still lack access to appropriate financial services.

UK-based small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) spend nearly three working weeks every year navigating tax reporting processes, according to data from the Federation for Small Businesses (FSB), with 40% of SMEs saying the automation of tax calculations would be useful.

5. Sales order process

Manually tracking sales orders from your business can be time-consuming and difficult to manage.

Depending on the type of business you have, you could be receiving sales orders by fax, post, online, mobile or email, overseas, or from the UK. So, what better way to streamline this process then through automation?

Companies such as Data Capture Solutions (DCS) provide a wide range of information management software and service solutions. For example, DCS’s automation solutions can be closely integrated with your customer relationship management (CRM) and sales processing systems.

Manageable workflows can be created, so the process can be monitored live through real-time tracking dashboards. You’ll be able to see the whole automated sales order process.

According to DCS, an automated sales order can:

  • Result in a decrease in processing time
  • Speed up revenue cycles
  • Shorten approvals and execution times with automated task routing
  • Shorten response timescales to address customer queries
  • Enable you to get repeat business
  • Increase the potential for cross-sell opportunities
  • Lower processing costs
  • Enable you to resource your teams to tackle higher-level activities
  • Lead to you avoiding additional investment in IT infrastructure if sales order processing takes place in the cloud.

Final thoughts

The final words on how automation can benefit your finance team, and business as a whole, go to Guy Kirkwood, spokesperson at UiPath, a global software company that develops a platform for RPA.

He says: “Automation takes care of admin-related tasks, freeing up human workers to focus on higher value tasks that require creativity and empathy, enabling humans to focus even more on customer care and experience.

“In essence, the things that really matter.”

Kirkwood adds: “When it comes to the type of businesses embracing automation, some prime examples are banking, manufacturing and the public sector, among many others. They are currently all under extreme pressures when it comes to costs.

“Put simply, the sectors most prone to disruption are the most focused on becoming future proof, because there really is no choice.”

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