How financial firms should use robotic processing automation

At Deloitte’s conference on professionals in the financial sector (PSF) on 6 December 2022, Gilles Andreini talked about the benefits of using RPA–robotic process automation–for finance and accounting.

According to the results of an informal poll presented during the panel, professionals in the financial sector are very keen on technology, but roughly 50% were not yet considering RPA or automation tools. However, these can play a key role in increasing a company’s efficiency.

“Robotic processing automation, or RPA, is a software programme designed to run repetitive and rule-based tasks,” explained Gilles Andreini, senior manager at Deloitte. But it’s not like an accounting system that requires manual follow-up.

Instead, it’s a tool that can be adapted to a firm’s own processes, allowing companies to automate certain processes and redirect human effort to more valuable tasks. RPA is not a substitution for existing tools, said Andreini, but is designed to increase operational efficiency and data quality.

Another feature that differentiates RPA from an accounting system is that RPA “does not communicate with you or with other software by interface,” said Andreini. It uses credentials to access “your system, to your CRM [customer relationship management], to your accounting system, to the business intelligence,” and is able to do any activity that a human does, “as long as it is rule-based and integrates your existing IT landscape.”

Concretely, what can RPA do?

RPA can launch commands, fill in forms, read screens and reports, or download, upload and read files and images. Andreini gave the example of how RPA can be used to prepare financial reporting. “A robot can receive different Excel reports, put together all the information, calculate some KPIs [key performance indicators].” It can then take accounting data from one system and the budget from an Excel file, put all the data together, analyse it, then send an email to stakeholders or to the CFO, for instance.

Robots can also assist with data input. “The robot [runs] and [checks] your email every 10 minutes. If it finds a PDF with an invoice, it will record it in your accounting system, or payroll, or any other system,” Andreini explained. They can also be instructed to conduct compliance and check the accuracy of information–such as a VAT rate–or the completeness of an invoice.

But RPA can also be used for output activity: it can send an email to the KYC team when a document in a database will expire, remind clients of past due invoices, or carry out basic reconciliation tasks on accounting data.

Why would a company need RPA?

“Basically, we want to have results quickly,” said Andreini, and “the results have to be of excellent quality.” Companies are under a lot of pressure–there’s an immediate demand for information, a need to meet compliance requirements and a desire for increased efficiency.

“A good amount of processes in firms, especially in the administration department, can be automated through RPA.” In addition, robots are “way faster” than humans and don’t make errors that a person might.

RPA can bring many advantages to a firm, Andreini concluded. He posed a series of questions: are company processes data-intensive? Repetitive or subject to errors? Do they involve sensitive data? Are processes fully digital? Do they involve calculations? Can these be executed outside of business hours? “The more ‘yes’ you have,” then “the more benefits you will have [by] implementing the robot,” he finished.