Finance Avoids RPA for Financial Reporting

Fewer than one-third of finance departments that have deployed robotic process automation (RPA) have utilized the technology for financial reporting according to a survey by Gartner, which also found that they could have saved 25,000 hours of avoidable work annually.

Gartner studied the use of RPA in finance departments through interviews with more than 150 corporate controllers, chief accounting officers (CAOs) and chief accounting leaders to determine the main benefits of implementing RPA within the financial reporting process and identified three key roadblocks that are currently hindering broader adoption.

“While 88% of corporate controllers expect to implement RPA by next year, we routinely encounter hesitancies when it comes to applying RPA to financial reporting processes,” said Dennis Gannon, research vice president in the Gartner Finance practice.

“When viewed from a narrow ROI perspective, financial reporting appears to be a low priority compared with other business initiatives,” Mr. Gannon said.

“The departments that have experimented with RPA in their reporting processes, however, report a series of additional benefits, from less staff time fixing mistakes and more time allocated to higher-value work. The result is typically higher employee engagement and less turnover.”

Gartner’s analysis based on survey responses with accounting and controllership leaders revealed three roadblocks finance leaders experience when considering implementing RPA: a hesitancy to remove human judgment from the process, perception of low ROI and process standardization delays before implementation.

Overcoming Hesitancy

RPA is best applied to manual, repetitive actions that a human would otherwise complete with a computer. CAOs and corporate controllers have been hesitant to deploy RPA full-scale within the financial reporting process, relying on staff interaction points for steps deemed still beneficial from human judgment. However, this approach limits the upside of RPA’s benefits while still introducing human error and the need for rework.

“Maintaining unnecessary human interaction points indefinitely creates a ceiling on the benefits of RPA. CAOs and controllers we’ve seen overcome this roadblock have created tandem systems set for a limited period of time,” said Mr. Gannon. “This allows accounting leaders to test the performance of a fully automated process against the traditional manual approach and provides proof of the efficiency and accuracy of RPA, without the need for human intervention points.”

Gartner research has found that the average amount of avoidable rework in accounting departments can take up to 30% of a full-time employee’s overall time.