A new report commissioned by ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants), CA ANZ (Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand) and KPMG has explored the significant opportunities automation presents for the finance function after results found many CFOs are still uncertain how implementing robotics solutions can be applied to benefit their finance functions.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) – software easily programmed by end users to perform high-volume, repeatable, rules-based tasks – is currently garnering significant market attention as a good automation choice for CFOs. Because the benefits go beyond cutting costs, it brings improved control and faster processing speed as well as better data quality.

Findings reveal the finance function has a way to go in terms of implementing RPA practices. Fifty per cent of respondents say their companies had either not trialled or fully implemented robotics and 45 per cent of those say they still need to understand exactly what robotics is before implementing it.

ACCA’s chief executive, Helen Brand OBE said “Although there is some uncertainty surrounding automation, CFOs understand for an organisation to gain a competitive advantage, they must embrace digital transformations for their respective businesses. What’s encouraging is almost half (46 per cent) of respondents are either trialling RPA, or have partially or fully implemented it for all relevant finance processes. Purchase to pay and record to report processes seem to be the most popular respectively, with tax being at the lower end of take up.”

“What we also found is the hesitation in embracing this technology lies in the knowledge of how it works. Forty-five per cent of respondents say they want to understand exactly what it is, while 38 per cent admit it’s not currently their highest priority. By publishing this report, we’re hoping to dispel any myths around automation by exploring the significant opportunities to finance leaders.”

Rick Ellis, Chief Executive of CA ANZ adds: ‘Applying robotics in the finance function is an opportunity for accounting professionals to free up their time from routine tasks and solely focus on what they do best – imparting trusted advice and adding value. The fact that the almost half of respondents who said they weren’t trialling or implementing robotics process automation cited it was because they didn’t know what is was exactly, shows us there is a huge knowledge gap around automation. It is well-known that the profession is undergoing much more disruption and diversity than experienced in the past, but how to harness disruption and the opportunities that lie in digital transformation is the missing link for many in the finance field.”

“Ranging from CFOs to accountants in public practice, embracing a digital mindset now means they can proactively shape their organisation or transform their services, rather than having to reactively assess later down the track.”

Nikki McAllen, partner, management consulting KPMG Australia is of the view that the adoption of RPA is as much about change management as it is about technology implementation “Strong leadership and executive sponsorship are essential. The dynamic nature of today’s business landscape calls for finance to be a strategic business partner, not simply a transaction processing back-office function. Automation allows the CFO to marginalise transactional processing effort. Consequently, automation initiatives are more likely to succeed where they are directly linked to broader strategic initiatives, enabling finance to better partner with the business. This trend is evidenced by the survey where 58% of respondents have identified broader business-wide digital transformation as a key catalyst for adoption.”

The report shares results of a global survey and draws insights from leading organisations around the world on the adoption of robotics in finance. The report can be viewed here.