Three Steps to Becoming More Automated in Finance

By: Sven Lindemann, CEO, Serrala

Increasing agility, lowering costs and improving productivity are important needs for finance professionals, making automation a top priority. However, despite remaining a necessity across organizations, automated financial functions are surprisingly under-adopted. Why is this the case?

According to a recent survey that asked 180 global financial leaders if they had the right processes, tools and talent in place to meet the needs of their organizations today and in future, 98% identified “increasing automation” as a priority – but only 9% say their processes are fully automated. These findings indicate that although the hunger for automation and modernization is there, leaders are facing an uphill battle as they push to drive adoption of automated financial solutions.

To evolve and become more efficient, organizations must recognize the necessity of advanced technologies and integrated solutions to drive their processes forward. Here are three steps to becoming more automated in finance that can be deployed today:

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  1. Automate Payments

While the best-case scenario would be to fully automate the entire procure to pay process (P2P), this may not be realistic for many companies. And although automating this process can be daunting, the key is to keep the end goal in mind. A company does not have to jump into automation with a fully-featured procure to pay solution but instead can begin automating with one element of a software suite and scale up as needs and budgets change.

Let’s take the example of electronic payments, or ePayments, as one of those elements. At the staff level, payments teams no longer have to deal with the many time-consuming tasks related to paper check payment processing. They can hand off the reconciliation and payment data maintenance process to experienced ePayments solution providers. Middle and upper management level staff see a great reduction in maverick spend, fraudulent payments, and security concerns that result from less controlled payment methods like checks. Lastly, with an automated payment solution in place, C-suite professionals can strategically manage payments and optimize cash flow and see bottom-line improvements from reduced costs and higher commercial card-related rebate capture.

With the proper preparation and discovery methods, such as identifying the costliest aspect of the current payables process and the budget for this technology investment, any organization will be able to find the perfect payments tool to start their P2P process transformation.

  1. Adopt a Cloud Based Solution

If companies are overwhelmed in selecting which area to try to automate first, the cloud is a great place to start. Cloud-based payments solutions can be deployed in a fraction of the time required for on-premise systems and the technology makes payments automation scalable and adaptable for businesses of all sizes.

The services are comprehensive and fast to implement, and the automatic updates take away the complexity of software maintenance. Remote users and on-the-go purchasers can easily approve invoices, validate payments, check bank balances or gain real-time operational and cash management insights using mobile devices. Cloud computing eliminates some of the biggest barriers to automation, including:

  • No installation/instant utilization and scalability
  • No internal IT dependencies
  • Proven processes security, backup and archiving

Cloud-based solutions provide large multinationals with the opportunity to simplify and standardize their payments workflows globally and move away from costly maintenance and cumbersome upgrade cycles. For small and midsize businesses, the cloud offers them the ability to implement a solution at a comfortable price point.

  1. Implement Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

While robotics has helped manufacturers automate physical tasks for several decades, they are now looking to help automate their back-office functions through RPA, where tools automate highly repetitive, labor-intensive, and high-volume processes. This allows employees to focus on priority, higher value tasks.

Automated workflows are a popular form of RPA used to systematize simple tasks such as approving an invoice. However, with the latest form of RPA, “bots” can take this level of automation even further by completely automating, without any human intervention, any task by applying simple business rules and data validation.

Companies should carefully evaluate the procure to pay processes and identify areas where RPA can be used to completely automate tasks. When RPA is combined with intelligent workflows, the procure to pay process becomes faster and more efficient. It also ensures that the highly skilled procurement and Accounts Payable staff can focus on the tasks that are of the most value to the company.

As the goal of reaching financial automation takes place at various levels within organizations, many are moving closer to making that dream a reality.  The barriers to automation adoption are likely a result of the varying goals and perceptions around technology and process improvement. Yet, despite these differences, it’s important for those trying to bring about change to address hesitations at every level to gain buy-in from all parties. With these three specific steps in mind, organizations can discuss priorities and begin implementation to ensure they are on the right path to automation.

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