Prepare for universal adoption of automation in finance

Automation is a key tool for finance functions to maximise operational efficiencies.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a way of automating processes so that repetitive and manual digital work is done by software robots, or “bots”. Global research firm Gartner says global RPA software sales will reach nearly $2 billion by 2021. Despite economic pressures caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, Gartner predicts that the RPA market will grow at double-digit rates through to 2024.

TreasuryONE chief technology officer Rudolph Janse van Rensburg says that local interest in RPA is growing. While the early adopters of RPA tended to be large corporates such as banks and insurers, Rudolph is increasingly seeing the business case for RPA amongst smaller companies. “Automation is on all top CFO’s technology roadmaps. In South Africa we are about two years behind. We seem to wait for the tech to be proven elsewhere. While initially RPA was expensive, as time goes by it is becoming more accessible,” he says.

Covid-19 has thrown many organisations off their axis and has inadvertently accelerated a transition towards a digital finance future. “Covid-19 has been a reality check for many organisations. At TreasuryONE, we have seen a boost in sales enquiries related to RPA,” comments Rudolph.

The future of automation
According to Rudolph, RPA in finance will reach near-universal acceptance within five years. Today the focus of RPA implementation is on reducing ‘digital drudgery’ by automating manual tasks. The intelligent application of machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) can take RPA to the next level. In the future, RPA projects will evolve, with AI used to analyse the data and provide tools to help companies make better decisions. “RPA is no longer limited to predefined tasks and data. AI-based ‘smart bots’ are capable of handling ambiguity and make decisions similar to their human counterparts,” adds Rudolph.

Reshaping the workplace
In most cases automation reshapes roles rather than destroying jobs. According to a University of London Study, a human and digital workforce – with the bots doing the rote, repetitive work, and humans responsible for the work that requires creativity, intuition, and judgment – means that workers are happier, more productive, and more likely to stay with their organisations. “For us, the big thing is to have the bots do the heavy lifting: not to replace our people, but to let the bots do the stuff that bots are good at, and let our people focus where they excel, which is building relationships and providing better service to our clients,” comments Rudolph.

The most compelling trend in finance today is re-focusing resources on high-value work, like forecasting, investment decision-making and enhancing financial and cost controls. “I anticipate many new roles opening up in the finance department. These include roles in analytics and data management. It is quite conceivable that in bigger companies there will be one team member in finance responsible for managing the bots,” adds Rudolph.

A World Economic Forum (WEF) report, The Future of Jobs 2018, estimates that 75 million jobs will be displaced by AI, robotics, and automation, but suggests that 133 million new jobs may be created by 2022 – a net gain of 58 million jobs. The report does predict a decimation of junior finance roles. Young finance professionals who want to ensure career viability must develop technical competence in the areas of data analytics, data science, business intelligence, and information systems and expertise in more traditional, yet high-demand, skills like financial planning, decision support, internal controls, and risk management.

A strong track record
TreasuryONE has a three-year track record in finance automation. The company first implemented RPA internally – understanding the business case and setting realistic, achievable goals for the tools. The eight-member strong RPA team are all certified in the software products they recommend. “Today, RPA is used daily in our operations. We have the experience of implementing RPA software in our own business and the recipe to make it successful,” says Rudolph.

The company has since expanded to offering RPA solutions for clients – to date TreasuryONE has automated more than 200 processes. The company works in South Africa, Africa, and takes on projects for its South African clients with operations in the rest of the world.

TreasuryONE prides itself on its close relationships with clients. RPA delivers many benefits, but it may not be worth automating every process. Businesses should target the repetitive processes that are most valuable, as this is where the most business benefit will be derived. “We work hard with clients to unlock value and ensure that they get the ROI. We will not take on projects where we can’t show ROI. We are also happy to start with smaller automation tasks and scale from there,” adds Rudolph.

Many automation projects fail because the broader finance team is excluded from the process. “Communication within the organisation is key to the success of any RPA implementation. If communication doesn’t happen, RPA projects can be met with suspicion and resistance,” says Rudolph.

The right RPA implementation partner is critical. You can find out more about how TreasuryONE Automation and Automation Anywehere can help you with your RPA implementation by visiting the first-ever virtual Finance Indaba Network on 15 October 2020.