Process robotics must be at the heart of every finance team – says V1 - V1

Published Tuesday, September 19, 2017 2:27 PM by Wearev1, Author

And accountants won’t lose their jobs for it

Accountants need to embrace new technologies if they are to improve efficiencies in the finance department – and they need to recognise that so-called robots won’t steal their jobs. V1 has published details on how Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) are billed as the next industrial revolution for the sector. 

These cognitive technologies are tipped to transform every corner of the business world, with Forrester expecting at least a 300% increase in investment in 2017 alone, compared with 2016. But although more and more disruptive products and services are emerging as organisations make their digital transformation plans, accountants have been late in adoption – often through a fear of losing their jobs or a lack of understanding of how to unlock its potential for themselves.

“Accountants are drip-fed media reports of robots taking their jobs. It’s scaremongering,” comments Dean McGlone, Sales Director at V1. “It’s time AI, ML and RPA are seen as positive disruption. Technology can change the accountants’ roles for the better. It can automate less skilled and repetitive tasks such as AP, credit control and accounts receivable, enabling finance teams to look to recruit members with a higher skill set and elevate finance to a more strategic role within the business by providing meaningful analysis to help make tricky decisions. Those working in admin roles have a great opportunity to skill up for the future to ensure their skillsets are relevant to the evolving finance function.

“What’s needed now is better awareness on how new technologies can make a constructive impact to people and business. The enthusiasm is there – 86% accountants are ready to embrace emerging technology to eliminate admin – but we are seeing a reluctance from organisations to implement sophisticated technologies in their finance departments. Just 15% of business leaders plan to invest in AI for accounting tasks. As an industry, we therefore have a duty to show how accountants can survive in the next industrial revolution – and how automating the finance function can benefit business as a whole.”

So how can cognitive technologies improve efficiencies for accountants? AI, ML and RPA can be used to automate clerical tasks, ultimately enabling accountants to improve their services to internal and external clients, reduce costs, and create new opportunities. 

V1 believes there are four major technologies:

  • Accounting chatbots – using similar technology to that found in Siri and Alexa, accounting information is provided through voice recognition and AI.
  • AI software – AI technology is being employed by accounting firms to quiz clients automatically on their tax liabilities.
  • Cognitive capture – RPA technology that automates the data capture and processing of supplier invoices, sales orders and other accounting documents.
  • Intelligent workflow – RPA and ML techniques are being used to improve finance workflows by making decisions about who should approve and cost coding based on clever algorithms.

As with any investment though, businesses should not buy technology just for the sake of it or because of the media hype. The hundreds and thousands of articles advocating the latest products and solutions are all well and good, but one size does not fit all.

Dean adds: “Organisations should carefully assess their greatest process challenges across their finance teams and establish whether technology can take that pain away, and if by doing so, whether it will deliver payback on the investment in a sensible time period. They should also be aware that the introduction of technology can require process changes and therefore change management to ensure adoption by internal and external customers, suppliers and indeed the finance team themselves. Not doing this properly can result in deploying a solution that does not deliver the anticipated payback.”

Some organisations are seeing significant returns however. For example, Hoople, a shared services company set up by Herefordshire Council and Wye Valley NHS Trust, has moved a step closer towards automating mundane accounting activities for the UK’s public sector. It has implemented an invoice automation solution from V1 to deliver efficiencies in Accounts Payable processes and drive down costs. Hoople customers are set to benefit, with shareholder Herefordshire Council already reaping the rewards of automation. 

Duncan Trumper, Business & Corporate Applications Manager at Hoople, says “As demand for public services grows and budgets become tighter, it’s critical our industry explores new and efficient ways of working. Technology has been our catalyst for change and Herefordshire Council is a great example of how automation can benefit the public sector. V1’s automation software processes the council’s invoices far more effectively and reduces its manned input by 50%. This subsequently reduces processing time and improves efficiency in the finance department.”

For more details on cognitive technologies, and the impact on accountants in practice and business, download the V1 Infographic.