Automation is a key tool for businesses that are expecting finance functions to maximise the operational efficiency and minimise the time spent on non-value activities, according to a report.
In a joint report released on Wednesday, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) said efficiency in finance operations, data and digital transformation, and improved controls and compliance are among the benefits of automation.
The report also explored the correlation between automation and headcount. It found that most jobs are made up of a number of different tasks, and automation typically gets rid of some of those tasks, rather than the entire job.
"As a result, it was often reshaping rather than eliminating jobs," the report, titled 'Automation in finance functions: lessons from India and the UK', said.
ICAI President Atul Kumar Gupta said, "With the introduction of artificial intelligence, robotic process automation, blockchain technology and IoT (internet of things), among others, it becomes imperative for all to be vigilant and respond to the technological innovations to continuously improve business operations."
He added that automation raises particular concerns about the future of jobs, and the report emphasises the importance of upskilling and training finance teams in a range of areas, including data and technology, in order to thrive in this new environment. "Automation, in most of our research examples, was reshaping rather than replacing jobs."
According to the report, automation enables wider digital transformation in finance and successful automation is often small scale and closely linked to process improvement.
It noted that while automation can sometimes involve expensive software, there are many cheaper tools that typically do not require programming-level skills.
The companies, in the research, emphasised that automation generates more benefits when it is integrated into wider initiatives aimed at process improvement and not treated as an end in itself.
The study also suggests three areas that stakeholders should focus on in order to help finance functions succeed in an automated world.
These include emphasising the benefits of automation and sharing good practices. It said professional bodies have a role to play in this by curation and sharing of learning through research.
Besides, retraining and reskilling staff to work in changing roles are also required, the report added.
In addition, developing and demonstrating a different value proposition for finance can also help finance functions to succeed in an automated world.
"Technology is transforming our profession, and automation technologies in particular raise profound questions about the future role of chartered accountants," ICAEW President David Matthews said.
He, however, added that automation also creates tremendous opportunities and helps finance functions to deliver more value to their businesses.