Automated financial services programs allow CFOs to provide stronger strategic insights for the business.
by Jane Steinacker
The days of manual Excel spreadsheets and scanning expense claim forms are coming to an end as robotic process automation (RPA) frees up a financial division’s time to get to the real work.
“By automating menial tasks, CFOs can turn their team into business partners for the company, as opposed to spreadsheet experts,” said Josh May, principal consultant at Blackline. The company is a provider of cloud software that automates and controls financial close and accounting processes and was referred to as a case study at this year’s Finance Indaba Conversations.
Aneshree Naidoo, CFO at law firm Webber Wentzel, is once again implementing a new ERP solution at the firm she recently joined after implementing the automated accounting software Blackline at Deloitte Africa as part of the S4Hana cloud ERP implementation journey recently.
“For many years we have been hearing about the danger of legacy systems that either no longer suit the business, where contract maintenance contracts have come to an end or where the system is no longer supported,” said Aneshree, adding that companies need to understand that having a strong financial accounting system that can be integrated with an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system is, “a number one priority”.
And it isn’t just Aneshree who believes that effective and efficient systems are a priority. Analyst house Gartner said that an ERP system is the fourth top priority for businesses, she said.
A good system that automates menial processes and reporting is one that eliminates errors and allows a business to quickly identify where figures don’t align – and are then able to take appropriate action.
“Finance is not the coolest department in the company – there’s a lot of transactional work,” said Catalin Lupu, the global VP for procurement and real estate at UiPath – Robotic Process Automation. “We are human beings, we get tired, we make mistakes.” By eliminating human error and freeing up time, the auditing process is easier, and compliance can easily be achieved.
But, before any of this can be achieved a company needs to find a way for all of its systems to work together to create a single view of the businesses finances. “Not all systems are designed to work together, and many companies need to either purchase connection software or have it custom built,” said Catalina.
Aneshree uses software that can pull data from bank accounts, Excel spreadsheets, ERP systems, payment platforms and a variety of other sources onto one platform that her team can then work from. The data that the system provides is key, she says: “The insight from the data is where the return on investment in the systems comes from,” said Aneshree.
With this system in place, both financial and legal compliance are less complicated, she said. This is possible because with “the right technology and setting up rules and roles in the system in a well thought out way”. the information about the business will only have “minor errors” and be in line with the compliance standards required.
“If the compliance standards are set up correctly from the beginning,” said Catalina, the system will be programmed to ensure that the business is able to meet the requirements, which Aneshree said is a very useful tool for businesses at a time “when the credibility of finance professionals is on the radar”.
The centralisation of processes into one system that is cloud based, giving users accessibility, also relieves the burden of the previously formidable annual audit. Auditors are no longer required to be holed up in a boardroom stacked floor to ceiling with lever arch files. Josh said they are now able to log into the software where they are allocated read-only rights into the books to be able to access the information they need.
Automation also frees up time to make human interactions more meaningful. Aneshree has seen how members of the teams she has worked with are more empowered.
Craig Sumption, director of finance at Hatch Africa said the need for face-to-face human interactions has not been lost, but with most of the legwork done, these can be more meaningful. One of the tasks is the ability for the company’s employees to load their expense claims remotely via an app – a task that previously required a visit to the office to use the business’s scanner.
Even with the decrease in time required to perform tasks, Craig’s diary is still full: “Time always seems to be taken up,” he said.
What to consider when choosing an IT vendor
Aneshree has these tips to consider when choosing an IT vendor. “You don’t want to chop and change vendors every few months or years,” said Aneshree.
- Be selective when interviewing vendors to make sure that they are credible.
- Be wary of vendors who only sell technology and do not understand the business’s challenges. Ask them what insights they are able to offer.
- Work with vendors who are able to provide a short-, medium- and long-term approach to your needs.
- Ensure that the vendor has a holistic view of your businesses needs and can provide any views on potential pitfalls that they have in their peripheral vision.
- Choose a vendor that uses simple language and doesn’t attempt to bombard you with jargon.