Leveraging RPA in the Finance Function - Podcast

Leveraging RPA in the Finance Function - Podcast

Leveraging RPA in the Finance Function - Podcast

In this 16-minute podcast, Protiviti Managing Director Shawn Seasongood and Associate Director Lauren Lang talk about the benefits and ROI that robotic process automation can deliver to finance organizations.

Kevin
Hello, and welcome to a new edition of Powerful Insights. This is Kevin Donahue, a senior director with Protiviti, and I’m pleased to be speaking today with Shawn Seasongood and Lauren Lang. Shawn is a managing director with Protiviti, and Lauren is an associate director with Protiviti. Both are leaders within our Business Performance Improvement practice. Shawn, thanks for joining me today.
Shawn
Happy to be here, Kevin.
Kevin
Lauren, great to speak with you as well.
Lauren 
Hi, Kevin, good to be here.
Kevin
I’m excited to be talking to both of you about what truly is a hot topic in business in general today, which is the use of automation and robotic process automation to achieve greater efficiencies and even cost savings in organizations. Today, I know we’re going to be talking about that specifically within the finance function of organizations. With that, Shawn, let me ask you the first question. In your role as a leader within financial performance improvement and some of the work we do for our clients, what are CFOs and senior finance folks looking to achieve in terms of automation and optimization today?
Shawn
Yes, Kevin. It’s been quite a journey over the last couple of years. The office of the CFO is very focused on value creation. Also, looking at other things, such as the voice of the customer, but we’ve really seen a journey over the last couple of years. I think if you go back about five years, there is a lot of focus on stabilization of the finance function, making sure that we’re producing reports that are accurate, developing management reports that companies can make business decisions off of, looking at things around stabilization of the financial close and the FP&A function. About four years ago, they really focused on how our company’s reengineering their processes, how they’re eliminating waste, getting rid of bottlenecks. With the whole BPO path, there was a lot of focus, from the reengineering to the stabilization, making things more repeatable, sustainable.
 
What we’re seeing now is that with all these activities that I talked about in the past, the stabilization, the reengineering and the standardization, there is a true opportunity to focus on automation, and I’ve seen the whole RPA space take off over the last two years. Companies are asking about it. They’re asking about how they can develop RPA solutions. They know their process have now become stabilized and more repeatable. They know that they’re more ripe for automation. This has become an explosive topic within finance, and whether you’re the CFO, treasurer or controller, there’s a lot of interest around the whole RPA space, and we’ve been building lots of questions around that and working with most of our key clients in developing some great solutions around the RPA space.
Kevin
Shawn, on that note, regarding RPA, as I’ve seen and I know you have, too, it’s such a hot topic right now. What are the current trends in the marketplace in connection with how finance leaders are leveraging, or are looking to leverage, RPA? What are you hearing and seeing out there right now?
Shawn
It’s interesting to look at it. If you look at the traditional focus areas of finance or the cash on the revenue side, there’s a lot to look at and review of how we can use RPA on that, whether that’s looking at a different pricing checklist, looking at the application of cash, just looking at different solutions or areas that have been problematic and very manual in nature and looking at how we can develop and use RPA solutions to fix some of that.
 
Going down the list of procure-to-pay on the AP side, that seems to be where we’ve gotten a lot of different questions. When you talk about best practices in procure-to-pay, you look at certain things like three-way matching. How can that be enabled through RPA? When the customer submits a bill, is there a way to use RPA to send out automatic email notifications back to the different vendors to say, “We’ve gotten your bill and we’re processing it now,” or if there’s missing information they need for that processing, RPA is being deployed to help with that. Also, looking at supplier onboarding, making sure that suppliers are submitting invoices that are consistent with contract to our tools, and then the overall invoice submission. We’ve seen a lot of different companies that explore OCR tools using RPA, because a lot of new RPA has more sophisticated tools that do have OCR capabilities. It’s an interesting area to look at.
 
Then, back to the bread and butter of where finance functions really live and exist, and we record the report, a lot of focus on automating journal entries, closing out subledgers, automatic posting of different subledgers, where there’s an Excel into a general ledger environment. All areas of focus we’re seeing right now, and areas where we think RPA can really enhance those areas. We see similar areas within FP&A and treasury, and it is interesting from a hot-topic perspective. RPAs really have a lot more focus on some non-FSI areas, but now we’re seeing FSI look at this area as well. You look at FSI, like an area such as mortgage origination. It took a lot of paper-pushing and getting different forms filled out and completed and workflow management. That’s another area where we see a lot of RPA solutions being developed.
 
On the insurance side, RPA has been tremendously successful in processing certain things within the insurance base. You have a lot of general applications and are interfacing with insurance-specific applications on the underwriting-claim, reinsurance side, and RPA has now been able to bridge some of those applications together so you have much more straight-through processing. It’s been a really interesting time. We’re seeing a lot of great client examples out there. We’re helping with a lot of those solutions, and it really has transformed the way the industry, and how finance, is being managed going forward.
Kevin
That’s a great rundown. Thanks, Shawn. Lauren, let’s bring you into the conversation here. From your perspective and in your work in the market, where do you see finance organizations implementing RPA today?
Lauren
Right now, what we’re seeing is that financial services are further along than many other industries on the RPA journey, and there are three different kind of steps in maturity for adopting RPA. In the initiation phase, we’re usually seeing organizations that are focusing on many of the areas that Shawn just covered—procure-to-pay, order-to-cash and record-the-report are looking to leverage RPA in invoicing intake. In any sort of process where there’s third-party data that’s coming in, and for whatever reason, they haven’t developed robust, traditional IT integration with those third-party data sources. That’s where a lot of the opportunities to do the proof-of-concepts and dip their toes into RPA development, and building out these automated processes are currently with the organizations that are just initiating.
 
Now, financial services is further along than many other industries, and a lot of them are moving toward industrializing their RPA programs. What does that mean? It means getting greater integration with other smart-machine technologies, so we’re looking at integration with virtual assistance to enhance capabilities within their call centers. There’s more straight-through processing with a verbal interaction with customers, and doing a hand-off to an RPA product. That’s the next level of maturity in use case that we’re seeing.
 
Initially, the focus is really on increasing the percentage of automation of those repeatable processes with structured data and more of the traditional operational side of the finance organization, things that aren’t customer-facing, where there’s lower risk in the early implementations and trial phase, then moving in to integrating more with the customer-facing capabilities and taking it to the next level. Now, many organizations in financial services are really just starting to dip their toes into that space and where it’s really moving toward, and in the industry. there are a lot of conversations about moving from traditional to immersive to intelligent banking capabilities, and organizations are now looking at how they extend their RPA footprint to interact with more of these next-generation artificial intelligence capabilities to have more sophisticated use cases.
Kevin
Great rundown. Thanks, Lauren. Following up on those points, what are some of the early challenges you’re seeing companies face in their RPA implementations?
Lauren
It’s an interesting question. In lessons, that has to do with the actual technology, with upscaling the business resources to be able to model and develop the automated-process solutions with limited support from IT. So, having that light IT model, where IT is performing the activities around supporting the infrastructure and providing consultation and guidance around security, the businesses has a large learning curve in knowing how to implement agilely as well as learning the different rundown and capability in the softer IT sort of the skill set in agile implementations, understanding functional decomposition of processes to be able to design robust automation tools.
 
There are challenges also with figuring out the business model and how to redirect or reallocate work that has been transferred to the digital workforce and how the existing business users manage and oversee that activity. There are challenges and concerns with auditing the bots and monitoring them for quality assurance. Usually, that’s where we’re seeing the challenges that organizations are facing with doing these implementations. They’re looking to rely less. They’re looking for consulting partners to provide support and help accelerate these processes or the actual RPA journey and hoping and striving to build plans that teach their internal teams how to do this on their own and stand on their own two feet. I think that that’s the greatest challenge that they’re facing right now.
Kevin
Lauren, I have one final question for you – and Shawn, you’re welcome to weigh in on this one as well. What do you see as some of the immediate benefits being realized with the use of RPA, and what’s the long-term potential of RPA in finance?
Lauren
The immediate benefits that are being realized are the speed of processing with the automated bots, liberating time to work on other things, particularly having to do with end-of-month activities as well as year-end close. We talked a bit earlier about some of the areas where we were seeing finance implementing automated solutions, and a lot of them are starting with processes associated with month-end and year-end close. They’re seeing significant improvements in those activities immediately, and most organizations are realizing a return on their investment of 100 percent or more within a year.
 
Now, the longer-term potential of RPA, which I spoke to a bit earlier, is, how do you connect RPA to more leading-edge artificial intelligence capabilities such as natural language processing, natural language understanding, neural networks to achieve greater opportunities for customer experience, and the possibilities of rethinking the capabilities of the entire financial service organization and the products that they provide?
Shawn
I 100 percent agree with my colleague. I think she said it best, but I think, to quote some other people who talk about RPA and what its potential is, it is not something that seems to be here that’s going to be gone in four or five years. This is going to be fundamental to a way that finance is managed going forward. I mean, it’s going to be probably just as prevalent as Excel is right now within finance functions and finance processes.
 
It’s something that we definitely would encourage embracing early on, because it’s going to be a little bit uncomfortable now, but six, seven years down the road, it could be incredibly uncomfortable because things are changing very quickly, and early adopters are obviously going to reap the benefits of being early adopters. We see it as transformational to the way finance will be managed in the future, and we’re excited about it because, as Lauren stated, there’s now going to be more time to be allocated to doing analytics and analyzing the business versus actually just reporting results. It’s an exciting time for us, and we’re excited to see what the future is.
Kevin
That’s a great analogy, Shawn, that this is very likely to grow in use similar to how Excel is being used today. When you think about the prevalence of that software, it’s almost mind-boggling to think how large this is going to become. I want to thank you, Shawn, and Lauren for joining me today to discuss the use of robotic process automation in finance groups today. I want to invite our audience to visit protiviti.com. We have a wealth of information on robotic process automation under our [Unintelligible] solutions offering.
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Shawn Seasongood
Shawn Seasongood
Managing Director
+1.646.242.7567
Linked
Lauren Lang
Lauren Lang
Associate Director
+1 312-551-8403
Linked