Three processes to automate for a more creative finance team

How automation can be utilized to free up finance teams to focus on their uniquely human capabilities


Many finance roles combine art and science: The art of subjective analysis and the science of hard data. Some in the finance world seem to have an "eye" for finding solutions that no one is able to see. Of course, human error being what it is, luck isn't always on your side, and sometimes even the best eyes have blind spots. But as the power of data and automation continues to grow, the artists of the finance world will have much better science to help them out.

The science of automation can supplement the art of finance in many ways. Data can be used when creating a company's credit policy, for example. A business could feed data on payment behaviors and bankruptcies into a machine-learning model to determine whether or not to extend credit in a given case. And automation can save time and trouble among teams as well. If the credit team has an automated process for its touchpoint with sales, any questions about a new client's credit information can be answered quickly and accurately. The sales team is then able to better avoid human error and devote more time and energy to its own art: Selling.

Where can automation help?

Almost any area of finance can be enhanced and accelerated with the right technology. Here are three situations in which automating can free up time, space and money for a finance team to focus on its uniquely human capabilities.

1. Customer identification and account recognition

A critical role of every finance team is to identify, classify and report on customers. The ability to carry out these actions accurately and efficiently depends on how clean a company's customer master data is. Unfortunately, when data in the master is entered and managed manually, it can end up messy and inaccurate, which can lead to errors or delays in processing.

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Instead of dealing with a man-made master, a company can use robotic process automation (RPA) alongside unique business identifiers to organize and automate aspects of the data management process. With RPA handling the ordinary cases, the finance team will have more time to carefully consider the corner cases and make the right call without stressing about human error. Over time, there is increasing opportunity for more advanced automation and true machine-learning implementation to further improve processes.

One of our clients previously struggled with this problem: Its imprecise account creation process took more than five days, on average. Needless to say, the client was losing sales to quicker-moving competitors, contracts due to inaccurate pricing and relationships because of poor customer service. But once the finance team implemented an automated account setup, the process went from five days to less than 15 minutes. Average sales increased by 200% and year-over-year sales increased from negative 3% to 6%.

2. Credit checks

Sales reps request credit checks often. Every time they sell to a new prospect, upsell an existing customer, or renew a customer's contract, they conduct a check to ensure the customer has a qualifying credit capacity. The problem is that this routine task is usually handled manually, which can be time-consuming – and, in sales, time is money.

With automation, credit checks can be processed instantly and accurately during any stage of the sales cycle. Real-time credit decisions help sales reps interact with clients much more efficiently; they don't need to interrupt or delay a conversation to hear back from the credit team. More importantly, the data they receive will be accurate. Companies can incur sizable losses when a customer makes delinquent payments or goes bankrupt, so finance leaders need to make sure they have solid information on who they're dealing with.

3. Regulatory reporting preparation

Finance teams are often kept busy getting together compliance data on customers, industries, portfolios and risk. Gathering and clearly presenting all that data can be a daunting task; in the past, internal auditors have been completely overwhelmed with the massive amounts of information.

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Fortunately, the collection and management of all that data can be automated. When the manual processing is outsourced to technology, it frees up an incredible amount of time for financial teams. With an automated process, one of our clients reduced the time its finance team spent preparing quarterly reports from 13 days to less than 15 minutes and the company's audited compliance gaps dropped by 80%. Ultimately, automating saved more than 2,000 hours of employee labor. Financial teams can use all that saved time to focus on their creative tasks, such as using the data to construct a narrative that shows stakeholders where the company is and where it's going.

Very few people enjoy crunching numbers, filling out spreadsheets and double-checking data all day. It's exhausting and time-consuming. After spending much of the workday on those technical processes, there's little time or energy to devote to the more creative parts of finance, such as strategic planning and decision-making. Fortunately, the science of automation gives those hours back, which means finance teams have the time and energy needed to focus on their art.

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