Are accounting firms ready for the new normal? How robotics process automation can help

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Virtual assistants, chat bots, and Amazon’s Alexa are all examples of how technology is enabling efficiency in our modern-day lives. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, businesses have had to quickly adopt new technology to support a remote workforce, a surge of ecommerce shopping, and contactless interactions.

The accounting profession, long stuck in traditional processes, has shifted under the spotlight of businesses who now need advisory services more than ever to ensure their survival. Rapidly changing legislation and financial guidance has also raised the need for accountants’ and financial advisors’ expertise.

As a result, accounting must adapt as well, but the routine tasks that keep accountants from more strategic work can’t be left to the wayside. This is where Robotics Process Automation (RPA) comes in.

What is Robotics Process Automation?

Robotics Process Automation (RPA) is the application of technology that allows employees in a company to use “bots” or “robots” as a digital worker. A bot captures and interprets existing applications to process a transaction, manage data, trigger responses, and communicates with other digital systems just like a human worker.

According to Gartner, RPA is the fastest-growing segment of the global enterprise software market. Partnered with optical character recognition and artificial intelligence, this technology is spurring the digital revolution of the accounting profession.

Benefits of RPA:

  • RPA reduces human intervention, meaning your staff has less time to spend on repetitive, admin-heavy work.
  • It decreases human error. At some point, human data entry is bound to have a mistake, especially when numbers are entered in wrongly, RPA minimizes these blunders.
  • It increases efficiency as monotonous and mundane tasks are automated, while keeping control of workflows within the company.

Robotic process automation was once considered a threat to jobs – that’s no longer the case. The pandemic has proven that the move towards automation is a move to adapt to the new normal.

By reducing the amount of tedious tasks, staff can now focus more of their attention on key, revenue-generating advisory services that clients are seeking, especially as more and more businesses require scenario and forecast planning from their financial advisors in these uncertain times.

Set your technology and clean data foundation prior to implementation

Before diving into the practical ways RPA can improve business processes, foundational building blocks are needed.

Reporting, forecasting and other significant processes will not work correctly with RPA unless the company’s data is clean. If an organization doesn’t have robust operating procedures, it doesn’t matter what type of accounting system or software it has, data will always be a problem.

What’s more, business processes and goals should be well established and improved before starting the vetting and implementation process. Process mapping should be in place for a successful RPA implementation, as it requires set and established rules for automation to work well.

As an effect of the pandemic, traditional forms of accounting procedures have been hampered by the requirement of remote working. To deliver the most value to clients, firms need to evaluate the available technology that will elevate their competitive edge, enable agility and expertise of their remote workforce, and increase productivity.

Cloud software is a crucial foundation for the integration of automated processes to be successful and should be an essential part of your tech stack. Cloud applications not only help to extend the reach of your business process, it also enables collaboration, visibility, and agility of those overseeing and setting the processes.

Business cases for RPA

Here are a few examples of how businesses and firms can adopt RPA:

  • Shrink the procedure to pay automation gap by setting a bot to vet new vendors by screening a report on their credit scores, tax data and other important information
  • Adopt RPA to bridge the quote to cash automation gaps by automatically price checking and verifying the current price against sales orders
  • Set a bot to gather and consolidate transactions and reconcile them in your ERP

Tax Management Use Case for RPA

  1. Map bots to scan tax forms and spreadsheets in the database or to extract online financial data like balance sheets
  2. After proper mapping, each field entry is copied from the paper or spreadsheet into the online tax form.
  3. The RPA software will flag an error if the primary data source field doesn’t match with the tax form.

Small CPA consulting firms that file tax returns in huge volumes will particularly find success using this use case as it speeds up the process of filing taxes and ensures accuracy.

In conclusion

As technology’s adoption is accelerated during these unprecedented times, organizations should evaluate their tools and how their remote workers can be empowered to take on the advisory work needed to help clients make financially sound decisions.

More and more, the advisory side of accounting is becoming essential. Increasingly, clients need a business partner to help determine what the right course is for their businesses and that’s truly the value firms can deliver during this time.

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