Robot invasion in finance, and what CFOs should do

  • New report from ACCA looks at future of robotic software in finance functions
  • Tendency to wave robotics in front of budget holders like a shiny new toy
Robot invasion in finance, and what CFOs should do

THE responsibilities of a CFO (chief finance officer) often make them understandably risk adverse, but according to a new report from the ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants), for many finance leaders, ‘hiring’ robots may be the next step in delivering a more effective and efficient business.
 
Jamie Lyon (pic above), co-author of the report and ACCA’s head of corporate sector, said: “Robotics is evocative, it’s high-tech and most importantly, it is emblematic of what many see as the next natural step in the evolution of business process delivery – namely, fewer people in favour of intuitive, machine-based learning technologies.
 
“However, talking to finance leaders during our research, they are clearly not sure about the benefits of wholesale automation of this type. Many still can’t understand what it really means for finance,” he added.
 
Advocates are claiming compelling numbers in support of robotics in finance, with a potential 50% reduction in future costs one of the headline figures, according to the ACCA report, The robots are coming? Implications for finance shared services.
 
However, according to Lyon, there is considerable trepidation among CFOs on the issue, and rightly so.
 
“There needs to be far more clarity around the proposition for finance beyond headcount reduction. Yes, the numbers seem appealing, but finance directors are unclear about the hard benefits of robotics over and above its cost-efficiency when compared to employees,” he said.
 
Despite the billions of dollars spent on enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, finance delivery still requires a significant amount of manual labour to complete a process or a transaction, the ACCA said.
 
According to the report, the relatively poor penetration into finance that robotics has experienced to date may be down to the approach taken to selling the technology, both by external vendors and internally to budget holders.
 
“When you build a value proposition for robotics in finance, you have to remember that this is not a product sale,” said Deborah Kops, co-author of the report and managing principal of Sourcing Change.
 
“You are selling a whole new way of working and it must be approached in this manner: Don’t price the software as a lower cost alternative to employees. Serve up a cost proposition that demonstrates the cost-benefit against the total cost of ownership,” she added.
 
Kops also advised companies to resist the urge to over-scope or over-price, saying there is a tendency to wave robotics in front of budget holders like a shiny new toy, but changing an entire way of working takes time.
 
“Be willing to start small and scale up because finance leaders are always seeking better practices,” she said.
 
The ACCA report concludes that if robotics is going to make the kind of inroads into the finance function that many believe they should, the value proposition needs to be around domain-rich, transformative solutions.
 
The full The robots are coming? Implications for finance shared services report can be viewed and downloaded here.
 
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