A school room, a computer lab with rows of screens and seating. A young person seated working at a terminal.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) software enables organisations to utilise technology to undertake repetitive tasks, such as data entry, by using scripts into applications. For many organisations RPA offers the opportunity to use technology to reassign resources and improve data quality and process efficiency.  

RPA in finance

Routine data entry takes up a significant proportion of effort. Data capture, at whatever stage of the business process, is time consuming and results in errors which take time to resolve.

For many organisations the RPA is a team member, they will even give their robots names to personalise the activities that people own.  

'In the short term, there are possible reassignments. But in the long term, as the whole process becomes embedded, headcount reduction is a given.'
Kelvin Musana, Standard Chartered Bank

Understanding the opportunity can offer a cost arbitrage by bringing down processing costs; challenging the off-shoring models that have developed. Costs and benefits should also be weighed against the reduced costs of rectification of data entry issues.

Why RPA in finance?

What factors should you consider in developing a business case?

  • Improving process efficiency
  • Reducing data capture error rates and improving data quality
  • Making staff available for other tasks.

Implementing RPA

RPA is a tool implemented by the business, the finance team, with the support of the IT community. It is a digital workforce. It is owned by the business, who own the processes. To be effective you need a clear understanding of the processes. 

'In fact, whether it is RPA or AI, they are designed to help people, rather than become smart enough to replace people. Under most circumstances, these systems can only give a correct output with numerous manual inputs and corrections.'
Jerry Shu, Accenture, China

Lessons learned from our members suggest an approach of pilot and test before adopting wholesale role replacement. Learn fast is the mantra.  

As RPA is an intervention that replaces tasks you need to consider the people issues.  What tasks remain with which roles? What tasks are people now able to focus on? How are you performance management processes and spans of control impacted?

'Where we have to deployed robotics and automation, they've tended not to be whole roles, but they’ve tended to be parts of people's roles.'
John Ashworth, Smith and Nephew.

The change needs to be managed.

You need to decide how you manage the access rights and recording of data transactions. As virtual workers RPA agents can have unique user ids and create audit trails of transactions.  

Impacts and issues

The following impacts and issues need to be considered:

  • How the roles in the organisation are impacted and redefined?
  • What the impact on your future skills and talent model are needed?
  • What is the impact on the internal control framework – how do you record the actions of the robotic agents?
  • Where used in an outsourced environment, how you retain the property of the scripts should providers change?

About Clive Webb, ACCA lead author

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