A Deloitte survey found robotic process automation (RPA) in accounting improved customer compliance 92 percent, accuracy 90 percent, productivity 85 percent, and reduced costs 59 percent. If ever there was talk of a transformative technology for accounting firms, robotic process automation would rank near the top.
RPA services for accounting firms have gone from digital transformation peculiarity to panacea. Over half of accounting firms worldwide have implemented RPA in their operations, and that’s expected to rise to over three-quarters within the next year or so.
It’s easy to buy into the misconception that RPA is only for the big players–the Deloittes and PwCs of the world. Rather, RPA technologies have become enormously more accessible for smaller, regional accounting firms, even ones with relatively modest IT setups.
In fact, being tech-savvy on your part has very little to do with automation. You certainly don’t need a degree in computer science or full-time IT staff to take advantage of all that RPA has to offer.
So what is RPA in accounting, and what are you losing out by not implementing automation in your accounting firm? This article hopes to answer all of your questions–how RPA fits into accountancies’ business models, how businesses like yours are leveraging it, and what you stand to gain from implementing RPA in your accounting firm. We also offer RPA in insurance for setting up new user accounts, processing transactions, and much more.
|😱 “But What About Jobs…” |
When people hear the word automation, the reaction is something like “the robots are coming, the robots are coming.” (picture with helter-skelter running and arms waving wildly in the air). Immediately, there is talk of job losses.
Here’s the reality–RPA is great for automating low-level, high-volume tasks that make most accountants go, “This is so boring.” Unless you like manually transferring numbers between documents and sending follow-up emails to clients, RPA is as much a threat to your job as shifting from manual bookkeeping to the electronic spreadsheet.
The vast majority of our accounting clients refocus their CPAs to value-adding tasks and reduce the inevitable employee churn from mundane tasks.
What Is Robotic Process Automation in Accounting?
Robotic Process Automation is “a type of software that mimics the activity of a human being in carrying out a task within a process,” says Leslie Willcocks, professor of technology, work, and globalization at the London School of Economics.
RPA uses a set of automation tools to automate repetitive tasks and manual processes performed electronically. This can be anything as simple as reconciling data between spreadsheets and parsing out information from invoices, to something more complex such as taking high-level decisions based on performance indicators.
Automation can be deployed across a wide range of technology systems, functional areas of the business, and perform a wide range of tasks. The robots can be configured easily, and you need little technical expertise to start automating manual tasks (if you have the right partner, that is).
RPA in accounting can be primarily “internal”–i.e. automating tasks you would otherwise expert employees to perform–or “external”–which involves direct interactions with customers.
According to one estimate, 45 percent of the activities at an accounting firm can be automated. RPA can deliver value on a number of fronts, including:
- Allowing businesses to operate 24/7
- Taking on more clients and scaling up the business
- Completing tasks near-instantly once dependencies are resolved
- Improving workflow efficiencies and reducing expenses
- Allowing employees to focus on critical thinking and strategy
- Making jobs more attractive
RPA Services in the Accounting Industry: How Are Accounting Firms Using Automation?
RPA’s strengths lie in performing high-volume, repeatable tasks that need little-to-no human intervention. This can include tasks such as processing invoices, processing refunds, entering sales orders, and automatically responding to customer queries.
RPA in tax accounting is also becoming prevalent for more complex tax activities, such as the preparation of tax returns, and calculating book-tax differences.
Accounting firms are using RPA (alongside technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence) in most areas of the business, including their advisory, taxation, and assurance services. Some firms are also offering RPA as an advisory product to clients.
However, the highly regulated nature of most accounting activities means RPA isn’t replacing people; it’s replacing their workload. Instead of having qualified chartered accountants spend hours following up with clients or reconcile data, RPA is allowing them to focus on higher-level accounting tasks, such as:
- Evaluating financial reports
- Preparing corporate taxes
- Investigating anomalies
- Providing in-depth insight and know-how
It also allows accountants to use their knowledge to enhance the capabilities of robots, further freeing themselves for strategic tasks that support the organization’s growth.
What Do You Need to Run RPA in Your Accounting Firm?
Not all that much, actually. The costs and computing power required to run a robot are minimal, and in most cases, you’ll be making no additional investment in your IT hardware.
Robots can run off something as compact as a laptop, though you may prefer more powerful systems if you’ll be supporting several robots and expect complex tasks to be performed.
Here’s what you need to run an RPA setup:
- A virtual machine for the robot
- Access to associated systems (in the same way a human would need), for instance licenses to Caseware and CCH
- A dedicated email address (naming your robot is a good idea)
- Access to the files the robot will need
- Security clearances on your IT systems, such as Microsoft Azure AD
Running a robot is very much like having an employee, only it doesn’t need a badge to the building or a 401(k).
RPA Is Transforming Accounting
Robotic process automation is answering the ever louder call of accounting firms–efficiency. Firms are leaning increasingly on RPA technologies to reduce workloads on overburdened staff from time-consuming tasks, and reduce the resulting employee turnover (hovering around 15-20 percent for smaller firms).
Accounting Today found the top four reasons why accounting firms are investing in RPA are:
And the firms that have invested in RPA are significantly ramping up investment. Here are a few use cases of RPA in accounting.
1. Accelerating Information Gathering and Decision-Making
A large financing and accounting company uses 25 robots to automate repetitive tasks, gather information, and review local documentation.
The company receives thousands of documents via email and through a file-sharing portal. Due to the enormous number of documents, the first task was always to manage the files and data manually. Employees would open and identify files, rename the document to a uniform convention, and shift them to the right repository.
Instead, RPA is able to handle all that, saving thousands of employee hours and completing the work around the clock.
Due diligence is another labor-intensive part of the work, requiring scanning thousands of documents and scraping data into a spreadsheet so it could be used for financial reporting. By deploying RPA in finance, it automated data scraping, speeding up the decision-making process.
2. Improving Consistency of Service Delivery With an Accounting RPA Service
An accounting firm faced with inconsistent service delivery, outdated technology, recurring staff turnover, high cost, and a rigid solution mode turned to RPA. Using automation, it introduced a cloud technology workflow and improved operational efficiency.
It was able to reduce software and labor costs by 22 percent, and expanded into new service categories, including on-site notary and high touch point sanitization, using automation.
3. Automating Invoice Generation and Uploading Process
A firm was looking to streamline a resource-intensive invoice generation and uploading process. As the number of clients and matters increased, the amount of work increased exponentially, consuming hundreds of employee hours.
Using RPA, it was able to automate both of the accounting processes, freeing them almost entirely from human intervention. The process uses a user-friendly system where the e-billing team shoots an email to the robot. The robot extracts and prepares invoices, it uploads the invoices to each individual client’s e-billing solution, and sends a status email to the billing team.
The robot interacts with a multitude of systems, including the firm’s invoice generation software, each client’s e-billing system, email, and various file management systems.
4. Cash-Matching Wire Instructions Received From the Treasury System
RPA can also be used to automate tasks without predefined parameters, which require a case-by-case assessment. For instance, a self-learning RPA solution is helping a company speed up repetitive and complex cash matching processes enormously.
- Uses a machine learning engine to read incoming payments from different trustees and uses the data set to predictively match the correct customer with the open receivable. This is an automatic process or can be revised by accounts receivable.
- Integrates RPA to match cash with the open receivable automatically (or when triggered by the user) in real-time. The faster process reduces DSO (days sales outstanding) and TCO (total cost of ownership).
- Allows the team to monitor real-time cash collection and cash matching against open receivables on a single dashboard.
- Sends executives and managers a notification to analyze data periodically, which assists in better cash forecasting and better decision-making for the company’s growth.
On the first day of implementation itself, the robot was able to process 85 percent of wires entirely automatically; using machine learning, it was able to process 97 percent of wires after six months of deployment.
Using RPA, the company has been able to reduce human error in repetitive clearing processes, free the team from mundane tasks, and improve integration with clients’ finance departments.
5. Combine Financial Results of Several Subsidiary Legal Entities
A parent company needed to consolidate its Intercompany GL Entries, ensuring they were not being exaggerated due to the transactions occurring between subsidiaries. It implemented a cloud-based custom Amortization Engine for Intercompany Asset Transfers (IAT), combining financial results for multiple legal entities into a consolidated organization.
The robot handles the consolidation of general ledger entries related to intercompany trades and the elimination of P&L by daily amortizations to the specific entity dimension.
The solution substantially reduced the manual effort involved in calculating monthly, quarterly, and yearly amortizations, and proved a big advantage when auditing financial statements.
Benefits of Robotic Process Automation in Accounting
Convenience, cost-effectiveness, capability–RPA offers benefits for all types of organizations across most industries. But what are the specific benefits of RPA for accounting firms? How do you build buy-in around automation, and will it deliver the value you expect?
1. Reduce Errors and Scale Easily
RPA extends across the record-to-report process, automating all of the hundreds of little processes. It reduces (potentially eliminates) the invariable risks of manually performing tasks and human error, and delivers dependable financial data.
When a single robot is able to perform work round-the-clock that would have taken employees hundreds of hours, it improves scalability, too. Getting more clients or files to handle? No problem, your robot can handle it; or at most, you’ll need to deploy another robot that offers the same quality and consistency as the first.
That means you can hire for value addition and refocus employees on tasks that need critical thinking.
2. RPA and Accounting: Normalizing Processes
Admit it, a lot of ‘accounting’ effort at any firm goes into receiving files, parsing data, reconciling journal entries, and reformatting documents. Then there’s the communication with clients that takes up innumerable hours. These are the kinds of repetitive tasks that your CPAs probably like doing with their eyes closed, but RPA excels at.
Things like document collection, validating them with historical trends, reformatting client documents (such as SAGE, Quickbooks, Foundation, D365), accounts payables and account receivables, and even complex work like roll forwards can all take up hundreds of hours. Even the large company audits you do essentially involve the same sort of tasks.
Don’t be surprised if they comprise the bulk of the work your business does, but contribute only a fraction of the value that clients expect.
These high-volume (there’s that word again) tasks provide the ideal use-case for robots. They can be automated with relative ease, and machine learning algorithms mean robots only become smarter over time.
3. Eliminating All the Little Distractions and Improving Employee Engagement
How many follow-up emails does it take for clients to get back to you with the information you need? How many hours do your employees spend double-checking they’ve received the document they’re looking for? How many status updates do you ask for?
It’s the little things that distract employees from the core business, and cost the company uncounted hours.
Nobody, and certainly not qualified CPAs, enjoys doing these mundane tasks over more mentally stimulating value addition. Rote, repetitive work harms morale and can increase employee turnover.
Contrary to popular belief, companies don’t fire well-trained employees over RPA, they reposition them into more strategic work. Someone who may have been spending hours emailing clients for the same old things may now be maximizing upsell opportunities, or be providing insight.
4. Cost Savings With RPA Services for the Accounting Industry
The belief that by implementing RPA a company’s going to save thousands or millions of dollars is founded on the same misconception that the company will be laying people off.
RPA unlocks cost savings by unlocking operational efficiencies.
Automation allows large volumes of data to be processed in a fraction of the time, without compromising accuracy. And that’s where the value of RPA lies–in its ability to enhance visibility in real-time, reduce risks, and offer unmatched accuracy.
Too often, the ROI of RPA is compared to the reduction of FTE hours on repetitive tasks and close efficiency. Instead, it should be assessed on the reduction of negative impacts (like preventing mistakes and the knock-on effects of correcting that mistake).
5. Risk and Compliance Reporting
Robots can enhance compliance and reduce risks by performing tasks in a standardized manner, free of any variation. Where a human might skip a step or be inconsistent in how they process transactions, software robots perform tasks repeatedly. This ensures tasks are completed to a high degree of accuracy.
Automation can certainly increase compliance and reduce risk. Unlike humans, who may skip a process step, or are inconsistent in the way they process a transaction, a software robot performs the task in a standard manner, free of bias or any variation, thus ensuring a high level of accuracy.
However, RPA must be teamed with effective operational and procedural safeguards to ensure robots are not tampered with. Even a well-meaning employee who changes the robot’s workflow slightly can introduce risk in the system if the change has not been properly assessed.
6. Low Upfront Cost and IT Investment
You almost certainly will not need to invest in any new infrastructure to implement RPA. Robots are hosted on virtual machines, and that’ll be the predominant technical effort you need to make.
In terms of recurring costs, you may only have to factor in the license for the platform (such as UiPath) on which the robots are built, and an additional seat(s) for any software you use in-house.
Another advantage is that robots can be implemented quickly. At 1Rivet, for instance, we produce functional software robots on an average of around four weeks.
7. Improve Security With RPA Services for Accounting
Though the entire RPA solution is cloud-based and fully managed (when you work with 1Rivet), the robot sits on the client-side of the firewall. That means it sends no data outside of your firewall, and there isn’t a risk that it will send data to unauthorized third parties.
Robots also have privileged access to resources, systems, and data, meaning a reduced risk of unauthorized exposure to sensitive or protected information. They can also be configured easily to improve redundancy, such as by creating archival copies of the data they handle.
Robots are also less likely to cause security incidents, such as ones that result from employee error (for instance, accidentally sending sensitive data to unintended recipients). There are wider cybersecurity advantages, too, as robots are far less likely to fall prey to socially-engineered attacks like spam and phishing.
Implementing RPA in a Finance and Accounting Organization
It is one thing to understand the benefits of RPA for accounting organizations, it is another to implement RPA. Businesses face several challenges during implementation::
- Incorrect ROI assessments
- Having the wrong expectations of RPA
- Trying to implement RPA on your own (without expertise)
- Using the wrong products
- Working with an unproven partner
- Struggling to build stakeholder buy-in
- Stopping the project midway through
- Failing to prepare the workforce for the change
It’s why the first step to effective RPA in accounting is finding the right partner. To help you effectively, and impactfully implement RPA solutions in your organization, we follow a five-step program:
- Design, Build, Test, Deploy
- Post-implementation support
Though RPA has become staple across the larger accounting firms, it’s novel for smaller, regional firms. A lot of our clients are interested in automation but don’t fully understand what it is, what the benefits are, or even what return on investment they’ll receive.
The first step in your RPA journey, therefore, must be finding a partner who can explain RPA and has experience offering RPA services for accounting firms. If you’re at this stage, feel free to get in touch with us. We hold education sessions regularly and walk you through one-on-one on everything RPA.
Your RPA partner will help you identify the right software product for your needs, and assist with implementation so make sure you’re working with a team that’s certified to use the product.
PwC estimates that nearly $2 trillion can be trimmed in workforce costs through automation, across all industries, so know that there’s potential for you to automate.
Once you know what RPA is and how robots function, the next step is understanding how and what processes in your organization can be automated.
Understand what robots are there, their capabilities, and how they correspond to your workflow before implementing RPA.
Once you’ve got a clear-cut idea of what can be automated, it comes time to understand costs. Our team will tell you how much each robot will cost to develop and deploy, and help you understand the ROI of each deployment.
Our team will evaluate your business process, assess clicks, complexities, and prepare an estimate.
As mentioned before, you likely will not need to make technology investments. Instead, expect start-up costs such as:
- Costs for setting up and running the virtual machine
- Licensing costs for the RPA product (UiPath)
- Services of the RPA partner you work with
- Licenses to any software you want the robot to be able to use (just like you would need for a human worker)
4. Design, Build, Test, Deploy
Robots take, on average, around four weeks to develop and deploy. You don’t have to worry about any of the product licensing or managing the robot. A qualified team manages and monitors the robots 24/7 (the robot, not the data that it’s handling).
5. Post-Implementation Support
We’ll help you optimize the rule-based software robots and prioritize tasks to meet demands, and make sure your robots are delivering the utility you expect long term.
How RPA Services in the Accounting Industry Can Help Your Organization Improve
One of the greatest benefits of RPA for organizations is building an ongoing effort to continuously improve. Automation enables consistent, repeatable performance, allowing you to minimize errors and issues over time. What’s more, a well-designed RPA makes adjusting processes relatively straightforward.
Using automation with analytics, RPA can help you better understand your business’s model, and better align employees with value-addition. In an accounting firm, that can mean CPAs leveraging the full breadth of their professional skills and training for insight and intelligence.
When it’s so easy to scale operational processes, accepting new clients, and offering new services becomes a lot less resource intensive and a lot faster.
Taking the First Step Towards RPA in Accounting
Any good business decision starts with information. Understand what RPA is and how it can help your business unlock efficiencies by talking to our RPA consultants.
You’ll receive transparent advice from a knowledgeable team that has worked extensively with accounting firms and other professional organizations, such as law firms.
We’ll help you evaluate if RPA is right for your organization, and then prepare customized solutions that fit your needs.
Take the first step, and get started with 1Rivet.
Contact Us to Get Started