Blog | 01 Feb 2024

AI & Robotic Process Automation: A New Era in Accounting Technology (Part I: Harnessing RPA for Enhanced Financial Management)

By Shubhdeep Singh, Senior Accountant | Technology

Accountants play a pivotal role in providing a wide array of essential services that contribute to the financial health and success of individuals and businesses, and in the rapidly evolving technological landscape, accountants are increasingly adopting Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to revolutionize their field. Traditionally tasked with maintaining financial records and ensuring regulatory compliance, accountants are now using these cutting-edge technologies to streamline processes, improve accuracy, and drive innovation.

The Rise of AI and Robotic Automation

AI and Robotic Automation encompass a suite of intelligent machines and software systems that are changing how accountants operate. Core technologies like machine learning, RPA, natural language processing (NLP), and machine vision are not just automating repetitive tasks but also redefining the accounting practices.

In our new blog series, we will discuss some of the most impactful of these technologies to understand their usage and to better place ourselves in this dynamic era.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA): Revolutionizing Workflow Efficiency

RPA, a software-driven technology, is transforming the accounting field by automating mundane and rule-based operations, reducing errors, lowering labour costs, and shortening process cycles. A basic example to understand RPA would be spreadsheet macros. However, advanced RPA goes beyond simple tasks and can be applied to various tasks over different applications, even to an entire business. 

RPA is something familiar as the application is now integrated in our daily lives from ATM machines to home appliances such as Alexa or Google nest that can be used to automate routine tasks around the house. 

Examples of RPA in accounting include:

  • Spreadsheet Macros for automated steps in tools like MS Excel.
  • Research Bots for updates on accounting regulations.
  • Expense Processing Bots like Receipt Bank and HubDoc.
  • Data Quality Bots integrated with software like QuickBooks.
  • Accounts Receivable Automation tools like InvoiceSherpa.
  • Customizable financial product tools like StripeTreasury and Relay.
  • Cash Flow Planning tools like QuickBooks Cash Flow Planner.

A caveat to keep in mind: RPA on its own will NOT improve a flawed process, it will just enable it to run automatically. To genuinely improve, business owners must revisit and rethink the process before applying RPA to their workflow.

The Role of the Professional in Implementing RPA

While RPA offers immense benefits, its successful implementation in accounting still requires professional oversight. Here’s why:

  1. Expertise in Process Optimization: Professionals can identify and refine processes before automation, ensuring that RPA is applied to efficient and streamlined workflows.
  2. Customization and Integration: Accountants are crucial in customizing RPAs to fit specific business needs and integrating them seamlessly with existing systems.
  3. Managing Complexity: Accounting experts are needed to manage the complexities of various systems and applications where RPA is implemented.
  4. Ensuring Compliance: Professionals ensure that RPA systems adhere to accounting standards and regulations.
  5. Interpreting Data: While RPA enhances data processing, accountants play a critical role in interpreting this data, providing insights for strategic decision-making.
  6. Risk Management: Accountants can foresee and manage operational risks associated with the use of RPAs.

Benefits of RPA to Clients

The use of RPA in accounting brings numerous advantages to clients:

  • Accuracy and Consistency: Reduced human error in financial records and reports.
  • Efficiency: Faster processing of tasks like data entry and invoice processing.
  • Cost Savings: Reduced need for manual labour.
  • Compliance and Control: Easier maintenance of compliance with detailed audit trails.
  • Scalability: Ability to scale operations without additional human resources.
  • Enhanced Service: Timely and insightful service to clients.
  • Data Security: Reduced risk of data breaches.

By implementing RPA tools, accounting professionals will be able to offer higher-value services such as financial planning, analysis and business advisory.

While RPA offers transformative benefits in accounting, the expertise of accounting professionals remains crucial. They not only facilitate the effective implementation of these technologies but also add value by interpreting and strategizing based on the processed data. This synergy of technology and professional expertise heralds a new era in accounting, promising greater efficiency, accuracy, and strategic insight for clients. Stay tuned for our next blog, where we will touch base on AI solutions in accounting. 

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