Time. It’s arguably the most valuable asset your finance team has at its disposal. And if you want to compete in the modern business world, it’s about putting those working hours to good use. But what counts as ‘good use’? Is it saddling your team with hours of yawn-inducing data entry or working on compelling, meaningful projects that will actually move the needle?
This might be an uncomfortable truth, but copying and pasting data from one Excel sheet to another is like counting beans with an abacus. More than this, it’s a waste of your team’s best talents. By freeing up their time to do more impactful work, you’ll be steering your team’s intelligence and creativity toward more significant problems to solve.
Cue technology to come swooping in to the rescue. In fact automation in finance and accounting is much more commonplace these days, with platforms that streamline core finance tasks such as invoicing, bank reconciliation, tax compliance and reporting more and more in demand.
Let’s zero in on some of those classic finance processes that technology can help your team automate.
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What finance functions can be automated?
Here are seven key areas of finance that present the perfect opportunity for finance and accounting automation. Each of these can easily soak up a substantial amount of time and energy due to their repetitive procedures and manual nature.
Accounts payable and receivable
Accounts receivable and accounts payable may live on opposite sides of the same coin. But they’re both sophisticated multi-step workflows that involve the coordination of multiple teams. For it to work, everyone has to do the whole song and dance together so you’ve got enough revenue flowing in to cover those bills and keep suppliers happy.
And that can lead to severe problems in the form of mistakes and delays. After all, traditional methods for issuing and tracking invoices are finicky and error-prone.
On the receivable side, invoice automation is a great way to speed up payment and reduce wait times. That includes generating and sending invoices, reconciling against sales records, and sending auto-nudges to customers as a reminder to pay.
For accounts payable, finance automation can save you time processing invoices and combing through information to check they’re correct. Accounts payable automation allows you to scan invoices, record and store information and auto-prompt approvers and chasers to move things along.
Expense management. It’s supposed to be, well, cost-saving. When in fact, it often costs companies a pretty penny to keep tabs on.
That's due to the number of steps and stakeholders involved, from employees hanging on to receipts to the managers collating and approving these and the finance managers chasing everyone involved. Fun times.
It’s a string of processes that can grate on your finance team and all those involved across your organisation.
Crucial to changing this is having systems in place that allow stakeholders like employees to get more involved in helping out - like expense management software that lets employees upload their own receipts that managers can then approve. If these changes then automatically reflect on monthly payslips, all the better.
Let’s be realistic: most government legislation isn’t exactly bedtime reading. Moreover, with so many changes in rules and legislation to keep track of, it can be tough to stay on top of compliance over the long run unless that’s your absolute tipple.
If you’re involved with high compliance areas like payroll in your day-to-day finance work, you’ll be all too familiar with this.
Of course, that’s where professionals like tax accountants and payroll bureaus come in. But these professionals, while experienced, can be expensive. That’s especially true if you’re outsourcing parts of your finance function to these. It’s a difficult, time-draining process that's often far from error-prone. Lots can get lost in translation when sending pieces of work back and forth.
Fortunately, finance workflow automation can be a game-changer for streamlining compliance. Payroll software, for instance, can automate complex calculations based on legislated rates and automatically update these every new tax year. Pretty nifty, right?
Payroll really is at the heart of every workforce. Any company that’s paid employees late or missed a paycheck entirely will know this well and how painful it is to recover from such experiences. It doesn’t matter what you’ve heard - pay is crucial and non-negotiable when it comes to employees showing up and giving their all at a job.
But payroll is no walk in the park - it’s a highly complex process involving many moving parts; think salary, benefits, holiday entitlement, tax deductions and pension contributions. And unlike other areas of finance, it takes a while for companies to cotton on to the fact that their payroll needs upgrading.
But we’re gradually dragging payroll into this century, with more and more businesses opting for software and payroll workflows that can keep up. And if these systems can integrate with the other platforms you’re using, like HR or accounting software, even better.
Bank reconciliation might not be the most thrilling of tasks, but it’s essential for keeping your books in good order. Plus, without accurate financial records, you’ll never really know how much money you’re actually spending.
Of all the finance workflow processes you can automate, having your bank reconciliation done swiftly and in bulk is one of the best ways to save a sizable chunk of time. Accounting software is one way to make this easier, but it also helps if you have other software, like invoicing, in your tech stack that can help streamline this particular workflow.
They’re the first step in the accounting cycle and a vital part of the double-entry system. Enter journal entries.
These records of transactions are the building blocks of your financial reporting. They also form an essential part of your financial compliance and will be key to your business if it ever gets audited.
But making sure your journal entries are precise and accurate can be a painstaking process. Without good automation, you’re looking at constructing each of these individually, which can get repetitive. Great for flexing your accounting chops! Not so great when you want to spend time on more mission-critical decision-making.
Finding a way to automate journal entries so they happen seamlessly in the background can save you oodles of time.
Last but not least, let’s not forget about reports.
Compiling reports helps draw together key KPIs that set the course for the future. But often, we hear from finance teams that most of their time is taken up trying to figure out what metrics to track and how reliable the underlying data they’ve gathered actually is. This is especially the case if data is being pulled from different sources.
Software can help consolidate and streamline the data-gathering process so it happens silently in the background of your operations. In fact, most good softwares by their nature will double as a place to store and manage data. Even better are the ones that can whisk this information out into compelling and visual reports that show you exactly what’s happening in your business.
Streamlining financial reporting has a myriad of benefits, but one of these can be that discussions surrounding actioning data become easier. In other words, things like board meetings are more valuable and productive as little time is wasted on minutia.
What workflows could you be automating?
So there you have it - seven workflows your finance team could (and should!) be automating. Not only will this make life easier for your team, it will also help them win back the day, so they can become key players on the meaningful tasks that will have a positive impact on your business strategy.
If you’re keen to explore the automation world more, make sure to check out this handy guide which introduces the concept of payroll automation.