RPA, or robotic process automation, is often seen as a silver bullet for boosting operational efficiency and cutting costs. But is the game really worth the candle, when it comes to Finance and Accounting business processes? We say YES and are ready to prove it with the 10 most promising RPA use cases for accounting and finance.
Using RPA in Finance and Accounting: Benefits and Challenges
What is RPA in finance and accounting? As a matter of fact, it’s the same as for any other industry: it’s the automation of tedious, high-volume, and repetitive tasks in a digital environment.
Regardless of the process, department, or business, RPA integration is only feasible when:
- There are considerable potential time and money savings. That’s why it's crucial to crunch some numbers and evaluate the ROI before you start.
- The initial quality of operations is high and the processes are rule-based and standardized. Otherwise, by robotizing chaos, you’ll only get robotized chaos.
Finance, with its accounting and procurement departments, meets both criteria. As a business function, it’s famous for repetitive, time-consuming tasks like data entry, reporting, cross-checking, and record keeping, which are the perfect food for RPA bots. On the other hand, most processes are more or less structured and rule-based, as there are almost no exceptions or human decision-making involved.
The best thing about robotic process automation is that you will see a return on investment almost right away, once RPA is implemented. Considering the relatively easy setup, as robots don’t physically integrate with your information systems, it looks like low-hanging fruit.
Here are the possible benefits:
|Improved operational metrics and SLA||Fewer mistakes and better compliance||Higher productivity||Cost reduction||More transparency, fewer risks|
|You can leverage such metrics as Days Payable Outstanding, Days Sales Outstanding, Days Inventory, and many more||Software robots can run such common processes as invoice processing end-to-end, 24/7, and with no mistakes.||Your team will spend less time on routine operations, saving hours for strategizing and the tasks that drive value.||And it’s not about staff redundancy: you’ll have less turnover due to burnout and, consequently, lower hiring costs.||RPA will streamline core financial processes, mitigating data safety and regulation risks.|
However, you’ll have to be ready to face some roadblocks. One of them is the fact that much accounting documentation is still paper-based or non-standardized, for example, vendor invoices or expense statements. Another one is about getting to terms with legacy ERP systems that can throw a monkey wrench into any digitization project.
Happily, these challenges are only applicable if you decide to build RPA solutions in-house. All modern RPA platforms offer solutions that solve both data extraction and system integration issues. So, let’s have a look at 10 most popular RPA use cases in finance and accounting.
#1. Accounts Receivable
Accounts Receivable is a good point to kick off automation in finance, as it’s less reliant on external documents, as opposed to Accounts Payable. The main metric RPA can help leverage here is Days Sales Outstanding.
DSO heavily depends on the human element on both the payee’s and the recipient’s side. For example, an accountant can forget to send an invoice. The result is not only a cash gap: if it’s done too frequently, it jeopardizes the order to cash process and impacts liquidity.
If you adopt RPA bots as your digital workforce, they will issue and email invoices automatically. By automating this task, you will get a consistent cash flow without deficiencies.
Apart from eliminating cash gaps, RPA can help input information, sparing accountants from juggling multiple information systems. And there’s more! Here is a list of possible accounts receivable tasks and processes that can benefit from intelligent automation:
- Customer data setup and management
- Extracting customer information from different sources
- Sales quotation and entry generation
- Invoice generation and distribution
- Cash application
- Customer credit monitoring
- Dispute resolution
- Follow-ups, reminders, and dunning
- Credit risk management
#2. Accounts Payable and procure to pay
The metric robotic process automation can help you boost here is Days Payable Outstanding. Though a high DPO has its advantages, as there is more cash on hand for short-term operations, it may be tricky in terms of reputation. A high DPO is good when it’s triggered by friendly credit terms, and not so good if the reason is that you are not able to pay your bills on time due to inefficiency.
Operational lags in accounts payable usually occur while processing invoices. Vendor invoices are non-standardized, and need to be cross-checked with purchasing orders and approved. Intelligent automation can streamline this process end-to-end even if the incoming docs are paper-based, thanks to optical character recognition technology (OCR).
Software robots can direct invoices to the team member responsible for their approval and set up reminders. They can also match the purchase order with the invoice, compare them, and flag the mismatches (if any) for review.
Here are some examples of what RPA can do in accounts payable and procure to pay:
- Vendor verification and setup
- Purchase order entry
- Extracting data from invoices and purchase orders
- Vendor invoice processing
- Cross-checking invoices with purchase orders
- Preparing and/or performing payments
- Payment validation and reconciliation
- Expense compliance audit
- Monitoring duplicates
- Responding to vendor inquiries
#3. Intercompany reconciliations (ICR)
Another promising application point for RPA in finance and accounting is intercompany reconciliations. Balancing accounts to provide an accurate financial statement is a source of constant stress due to manual data entry, extraction, and cross-checking. In the worst cases, identifying unrecorded transactions or balances and rooting out invoicing mistakes can paralyze the entire department.
A bot can streamline this process by easily acquiring and checking transactional data from any source, automatically approving all matching records, and notifying about discrepancies. By adopting RPA, you can automate and streamline the following tasks and operations:
- Extracting or retrieving data from files
- Searching for related statements in ERP systems
- Comparing balances
- Looking for missing invoices and sending emails to customers
- Reporting discrepancies
- Directing reports to the business controller
- Creating journal entries
#4. Inventory management
This business process is all about control: you need to be in the know about inventory levels to maintain a constant product supply. RPA bots can do all the heavy lifting and help leverage the dead stock and stock-outs, improve lead times, and optimize storage costs.
These are the tasks software bots can handle without batting an eyelash:
- Monitoring inventory
- Notifying about low inventory levels
- Ordering products when the stock levels hit a threshold
- Placing and approving stock orders
- Forecasting optimal inventory levels
- Updating ERP and WMS systems
- Reporting and follow-ups
- Tracking shipments
#5. Travel & expenses
When it comes to business trips, RPA bots can facilitate lots of manual work for both travelers and accountants, creating a better employee experience. They can extract and read data from all types of receipts, check whether they qualify as a business expense, and wrap them into accurate expense reports— and all this with zero time spent on the part of the employees involved.
- Entering expense records and checking according to company policies and legislation
- Aggregating data into expense reports
- Creating paychecks and managing benefits and reimbursements
- Alerting in case of policy violations or data discrepancies
Speaking of payroll, bots help to avoid payment delays and inaccuracies, taking on data entry, timesheet validation, and deduction calculations. They can even extract data from paper sick lists that are still in use in some countries.
These are the use cases RPA can help you with:
- Employee data extraction
- Data verification across information systems (sick days, business trips, timesheets)
- Generating and approving timesheets
Though the main part of this business process takes place in tax compliance software, finance teams still perform interim calculations that take time. RPA robots can automate this part by taking on:
- Gathering data for tax liability
- Creating tax basis
- Preparing reports
- Updating tax return workbooks
- Submitting reports to tax authorities
Same for treasury management: though there are quite sophisticated information systems in place, initial data input is often performed manually. Bots can extract and transform data into a format a treasury system can process, and even more:
- Extracting and formatting data
- Updating treasury systems
- Sending out reports
- General ledger updates
#9. Financial reporting
A safe way to monitor financial performance is to track profit and loss on a daily basis. However, updating P&L reports manually is tedious and time-consuming. RPA can take this task off your shoulders and generate immaculate reports in real time. Such intelligent automation will make your business processes more transparent and ensure financial forecasting accuracy.
There are quite a lot of reporting processes where RPA can come handy:
- Trial balance and balance sheets
- Income statements
- Variance analysis
- Financial close processes
- Regulatory/management reports
#10. Financial planning and forecasting
As for planning and forecasting, bots can help with such tasks as loading balances to planning systems and creating variance reports. Based on this information and historic data, modern RPA platforms can also provide forecasts and help improve financial planning.
The Tax function is filled with routine processes that are still being performed manually in order to prepare reports and file information required by the law. Disparate systems and finance processes for many organizations often create a challenge in gathering and reconciling tax-related data.
The use cases we mentioned here cover most business processes that are related to finance and accounting. That means that any finance department with high volumes of manually performed processes can benefit from digital transformation even without drastic infrastructure changes. And that’s the gist of intelligent automation with RPA: you can take a shortcut towards better productivity, enabling people to perform more complex and strategic tasks that drive value.
If you’d like to talk about particular use cases in your or your client’s finance and accounting department and see RPA in action, book a demo. We’ll be glad to help you estimate ROI and provide any other consultation you’d like.