Liberating Accountants To Be Human

Rob Leesberg

Robotic process automation is close to a technological marvel. It captures data from different applications to process every accounting transaction, and its benefit to accounting efficiency is undeniable. But to think robots are a replacement for human beings is folly.

In the world of accounting and finance, robotic process automation, or RPA, effectively performs the rote, repetitive, and tedious manual work typically executed by accountants. It does this by extending automated functionality to processes, systems, and data beyond the reach of interfaces to facilitate the integration of disparate financial systems.

This value has not gone unnoticed. One-third of finance leaders in a recent survey by Genpact Research stated that RPA tools and applications are having a positive operational impact in their organizations, with more than half positing that RPA will have the greatest impact of all finance and accounting tools over the next two years. (RPA technologies are used extensively in BlackLine products—editor)

By capturing and processing the data that creates a financial transaction, RPA takes over many of the number-crunching activities performed by accountants. Because machines do things the same way all the time, the numbers add up perfectly, minus the risk of human error. Since accounting and finance is the foundation of any corporate strategy, this is great news. Such crucial underpinnings should not be weakened by manual labor.

No robots here

What RPA doesn’t do is replace accountants, as the recent New York Times article “The New Bookkeeper Is a Robot asserted. Accountants are still needed to do something for which they have the nuanced skills—but not often the time— to do: study the numbers to learn where the business is losing or gaining speed. This is crucial information for a CFO entrusted with strategic resource-allocation responsibilities, where the accountants’ daily analyses can help determine where best to spend or draw back capital.

RPA frees well-educated accountants from their manual tasks and sharpens their focus on analytics and forecasting, assisting them in delivering added value to the CFO and other finance leaders. No longer preoccupied with manual labor, accountants can extract deeper meaning from the financial data. They can then apply these analyses to other business data to enhance the decision-making capabilities of financial experts in all segments of the organization.

Accountable for backup

This is just one of many ways accountants can provide a critical service. Instead of ticking things off a list, accountants can hold others accountable for the backup behind the numbers. They can undertake forensic accounting procedures to analyze financial information for use in legal proceedings or to ensure compliance with fast-evolving global regulations.

They can also put their minds to assisting financial planning and analysis in making timelier forecasts, and advise the CFO on what to do with surplus capital. They can look at the books and instinctively know if something is not right, making them invaluable to ferreting out fraud—assuming they have the time to do this.

Accountants have deep financial expertise that can be applied to other strategic needs. Since a company’s every transaction carries an element of risk, the accountants can be trained to create more robust risk models. Armed with real-time knowledge produced by the robotic accounting software, accountants can even anticipate newer problems and alert appropriate people to take action.

To take this even further, imagine if accountants could compare current business data to developing macroeconomic and geopolitical risks and opportunities—getting ahead of a Brexit or avoiding the impact of the oil crisis. There’s no reason to believe that accountants must remain internally focused. Not in today’s fast-paced global business environment.

The bottom line is that RPA will change the accounting and finance landscape for the better. It can reposition accountants from the “back office” to provide valuable insights on business performance to the Office of Finance. RPA doesn’t threaten accountants; it empowers them to be exceptional.

This article originally appeared on BlackLine.com, and is republished by permission. For more on this topic, read “Build Your Future In 2017: Tech and Trends.”


Rob Leesberg

About Rob Leesberg

Rob Leesberg is managing director at finance automation software provider, BlackLine, responsible for SAP technology and integration. Rob has over 20 years of experience improving financial governance in SAP software. Prior to BlackLine, Leesberg was founder and chief of solution design at Runbook, a provider of financial solutions for companies running SAP software, which was acquired by BlackLine in 2016. Mr. Leesberg holds a Masters of Business Administration from Delta University