Webinar reveals that automation has made way for upskilling employees

SoluGrowth CFO Francois Burger: People who’ve been replaced by automation are moving up the ladder.

SoluGrowth’s business process outsourcing (BPO) project for Mastercard Global has been a massive success. What started as a skills replacement project in the UK and Europe 17 years ago, expanded into a global project spanning vast aspects of the finance function. The project delivered Mastercard a cost saving of more than 30 percent, and significant efficiencies.

On 24 November, CFO South Africa hosted a webinar that took a deep dive into this BPO project. Mastercard director of transactional services Kim Besgrove described the relationship between SoluGrowth and Mastercard as a partnership. “There is an incredible difference between a partner and provider. A partner is there to help you solve problems and come up with solutions,” said Kim.

She then described the close working relationship between SoluGrowth and her team. “SoluGrowth is really an extension of my team. We have stand-up calls in the morning, we talk about what’s going on, are there any issues that need to be tackled and they really go above and beyond to execute on our deliverables,” said Kim. She explained how business process outsourcing and automation built a case for itself at each new implementation across the business, and outlined the savings and efficiencies realised as this global project was rolled out.

This year, business continuity was and remains at the forefront of every agenda. Covid-19 cases began cropping up in the US as early as February, prompting Mastercard and SoluGrowth to start planning for a lockdown. “I’m pleased to say that when the time came to execute these plans, they were executed almost flawlessly and that says a lot,” said Kim.

Joining Kim was SoluGrowth CFO Francois Burger, who outlined the challenges that come with reducing costs: something that affects all financial professionals. At the same time, CFO South Africa ran a poll asking attendees to vote on which trend they believed was driving the most cost efficiencies in the business. The choices were between hyper-automation, data analytics, predictive artificial intelligence (AI) or upskilling people. The majority of attendees voted for upskilling people.

Francois said their global surveys reflected the views of attendees. “Upskilling people is the most important and this came across very clearly in the research, making sure you had the right people with the right skills,” said Francios.

Automation in finance is a hot topic, generally eliciting one of two responses: terror or excitement. “Repetitive manual functions no longer have a place in finance,” said Francois. But in the early stages of automation, there were concerns around job security for the people in those roles. “What we picked up is that there is no longer the job security issue or discussion around people losing their jobs. In fact, what we picked up in our research is that there was only a three-percent attrition rate.” He said the people being replaced by automated functions ended up moving on to higher-end, value-adding roles in the companies.

Knowledge Executive CEO Mark Angus, who was also part of the webinar, added to this saying that the people whose roles were being replaced needed upskilling for their new functions which involved more analytical and strategic work. “Automation is great, but it is very important to have a human factor as well. Humanisation and automation must be aligned going forward,” said Mark.

SoluGrowth CEO Sandile Gwala agreed, but emphasised that people whose jobs are being replaced by RPAs needed to be identified and trained ahead of implementation. “Automation moves very quickly and they are required to do other jobs.” He said research shows that there will be a shortage of accountants in the near future. “While we are automating, we still need people who understand technical standards, so you need to upskill people to work in parallel with the robots,” said Sandile.

In closing, Sandile gave attendees some positive feedback about South Africa as a prime outsourcing destination. “For the last three years, South Africa has been rated as one of the top outsourcing destinations.” He said local outsourcing companies did well in the Covid-19 period. “Some of the companies here are supporting UK-based emergency services,” said Sandile.

Mark agreed, saying that while the rest of the world went into lockdown, South Africa was notably one of the few locations delivering essential services.