Automating the return to work: the future of finance
August 15, 2022

The future of finance is automation

Will automating the return to work be the future of finance? If you must ask, you’re not alone. Finance is often a key component of any business—but it doesn’t have to be tedious.

While the work can be repetitive (& usually involves a lot of data entry) it’s a great opportunity for small businesses to be more efficient, & it comes with benefits that you can enjoy even if you’re working remotely.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s much easier to ignore emails when you’re not in the same room, even though there are still plenty of colleagues wondering what’s happened to their request for a new laptop.

The continuation of remote working has placed even more demand on finance staff. & as the days go by with no answer, staff become frustrated, with many looking forward to the return of office life purely so they can chase their invoices & requests.

The reality is that most businesses have, at some point or another, found themselves struggling with a lack of time & resources needed to perform tasks such as collecting payments from clients.

This can be a major cause of stress for employees who feel they’re missing out on work opportunities due to an inability to keep up with demand.

Finance teams should be looking forward to a return

When COVID-19 turned the world got upside down, it was the finance department who took the brunt of it.

As the ones who typically take the blame when orders or payments are later rejected, finance teams have been thrust into the spotlight, with many standing by to see if they were able to make the transition seamlessly without detrimental impact on both their culture & their business.

Beyond the low-hanging fruit of the motivation-killing work like monotonous, cut-&-paste data entry, the finance function has been challenged in the transition to remote work by a lack of enabling technology, with 30% of financial workers saying they had difficulties collaborating & getting the information they required in order to accomplish their tasks.

Business executives & CFOs alike continue to rely on the same manual processes for their finance departments rather than making the switch to automation. With the “we’ve always done it that way” mindset playing a role in this inability to move to automation. Upper management needs to understand that the future of finance is automation.

Whether a co-worker prepares for their return to the office or opts in for remote work, finance teams need to be enabled with automation software. The technology behind this powerful tool enhances a department to operate more efficiently, while shaving off time, money & resources in the process.

For example, one of the key things remote working has exposed is the vulnerability in manual invoice processing. Whilst the office may have closed its doors, invoices didn’t stop & continued to stream in through the letterboxes of closed premises – but were then left lying untouched & unprocessed. 

To try to rectify this, some teams took turns visiting the office to collect invoices & despite their best efforts, this strategy is flawed. Having staff physically collect paper invoices, open them, review & scan them is not just old-fashioned, it is an incredibly ineffective use of staff time. 

From surviving to thriving at home

Pre-pandemic, teams may have relied upon ‘offline’ access to the information – printed reports & requests fluttered around desks, key figures scribbled on a whiteboard & the ability to openly shout queries across the room.

But this doesn’t cut it in a world where teams can be located in different cities, counties, or even halfway across the globe.

Many businesses often struggle when it comes to making the switch to automated solutions in their business. Almost one quarter of businesses (24%) admit they are not using electronic tools to manage what are largely repetitive, low-value processes within their finance teams.

Although change may be scary & means business leaders may have to take a step out of their comfort zone, the transition into the digital world can be easy & fruitful for businesses ready to be brave & take a leap of faith.

Manual processes can be significant drains on time & labor, but businesses that have woken up & smelt the ‘automated’ coffee (perhaps from a bean-to-cup machine? ☕), have realized that it is the way to gain a competitive edge moving forward.

Fortunately, automation holds the key to building the finance function of the future, as it enhances business processes, improves customer experience, & allows you to become more efficient by leveraging autonomous finance. 

These three benefits alone will offer an unparalleled competitive advantage. Businesses will move quicker than their competitors & please more customers. Over time, this competitive advantage will increase the gap between finance functions that use accounts payable automation & those that do not.

How automation in finance is benefiting remote teams

Capturing early payment discounts & speeding up processes can be achieved whilst accounts payable teams work remotely, however, with accounts payable automation eliminating the need to physically go into the office while saving staff time.

While there are immediate gains to efficiency & productivity on their own, when leveraged as part of your digital procurement solution, automation can enhance finance teams that are working from home & ease the anxiety of returning to the office. Here are our top three benefits:

1.       Streamlined workflows

Purchase-to-Pay (P2P) automation takes human labor, & errors, out of your most common procurement processes. Automated approval workflows with built-in contingencies & reminders eliminate bottlenecks & expensive delays resulting in much more streamlined workflows.

2.     Visibility

Automated P2P processes allow for total spend visibility as it tracks every transaction, removing maverick spend & reducing risk from fraud & theft while ensuring accurate cash flow calculations. Stakeholders can access information in real-time, from both desktop & mobile devices, & use advanced dashboards to transform raw data into actionable insights on demand for better financial reporting & planning.

3.      Cost savings 

Simply by eliminating paper, manual processes, workflow redundancies, & the need for most or all human intervention, procurement automation generates substantial savings on day one. AI-assisted approval workflows add further savings by removing the need for human touch on spend within established parameters, & centralized data management shaves hours off of cycle times for invoices, purchase orders, contract management, & audits.

Embracing the future of finance

Of all the areas that businesses automate, finance continues to lag far behind. The widespread use of spreadsheets or other outdated systems to perform accounting duties has put millions of businesses behind when it comes to automation & understandably created angst among finance workers dreading the return to the office.

However, the finance industry is the perfect candidate to expand the usage of digital transformation.

Automating repetitive tasks such as manual data gathering & data entry, document authentication, & reporting can help businesses reduce errors while also freeing up employees for more strategic activities that focus more on growing the business.

Embracing automation technology can also increase revenue by eliminating unnecessary staff while helping to streamline production. 

Though adopting this new technology has been slower than expected, the pandemic has accelerated that process across multiple industries, as more business owners realize that using finance automation is essential for normal business operations.