As a CFO, your business demands that you’re more strategic in your decision-making, and your time becomes more valuable as you assume more strategic responsibilities.
Automation is tantamount to having an assistant who handles the boring stuff and empowers you to focus on high-value strategic initiatives.
Time-consuming, repetitive tasks can be offloaded thanks to automation.
Research shows that 24 working days can be saved annually by automating the financial close, freeing up 3x more time to focus on higher-value activities that require critical thinking and decision-making.
In this article we’ll reveal how automation can help organisations take command of manual processes, freeing up their finance teams to focus on critical strategic activities.
We cover the following in this article:
- Automation unlocks time savings, precision, and efficiency
- What AP automation looks like in the real world
- View real-time access to vital financial information
- Automation can help you with compliance
- Automated reporting: The backbone of informed decision-making
- Other real-world applications of financial automation
- Beyond reporting—automation’s broader impact
- The human impact of financial automation
- 5 benefits of automation for your finance team
- Final thoughts: The future of finance in the age of automation
Automation unlocks time savings, precision, and efficiency
Being error-prone, manual processes can have costly consequences. Automation minimises the risk of human error, ensuring data integrity.
Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities can seamlessly streamline your accounts payable (AP) invoice processing workflow.
For example, when an invoice enters the Sage Intacct system, it’s captured and analysed through machine learning algorithms that identify and process the data based on your historical actions.
The appropriate dimensions are automatically assigned, and the workflow approval stages are set, minimising the need for manual intervention.
The system will capture numerous details from a classic invoice, including vendor data, line-item specifics, and billing information. By doing this, it smartly attributes fields and dimensions, enabling a highly efficient, error-free, and swift approval process.
What AP automation looks like in the real world
“Sage Intacct AP automation, especially its AI features, has been a game-changer,” says Michelle Pyle, former finance director at Johnny’s Selected Seeds. The AI reads and extracts bill data, allowing for easier review. Once approved, it’s all done.”
Automation has enabled the organisation to transition from paper cheques to electronic payments, freeing valuable time and providing real-time data crucial for innovation.
AP automation isn’t merely a tool for efficiency; it’s an invaluable strategic asset.
Another example where automation has real-world financial applications is with Cambio Community, which revitalises manufactured home communities.
Sage Intacct AP Automation has streamlined the accounts payable process, and speeds up vendor payments, allowing the business to procure supplies and labour at speed.
Cambio CFO Sarah Janowicz says: “Our invoice processing doubled from 1,500 to nearly 3,500 bills per month. The automation tool analyses data upfront, making it easy to pull specific information later. It facilitates the entire invoicing cycle from start to finish without manual intervention.”
Sarah is certain that as Cambio continues to grow, the AP Automation tool will be crucial for maintaining its level of service.
She adds: “It ensures communities run better, houses are acquired faster, and the living experience is overall better for everyone.”
View real-time access to vital financial information
The days of waiting for manual reports or sifting through spreadsheets for a holistic view of the organisation’s financial health are gone.
With automated systems, up-to-date dashboard data can be accessed in a few clicks, so you can make timely strategic decisions and respond quickly to market changes.
Automation can help you with compliance
CFOs must maintain accurate and transparent financial records, and compliance regulations are continually evolving.
Automation enables the streamlining of compliance processes, ensuring adherence to regulatory requirements and reducing non-compliance risk.
Its faster controls and workflows can increase audit readiness, helping to build and maintain stakeholder trust.
CFOs can become strategic partners to CEOs and other key personnel, driving organisational success through data-driven insights and actionable recommendations.
Colin Cunningham, CFO at SaaS firm OnBoard, recommends avoiding manual processes as much as possible and using systems to streamline processes.
He adds: “It’s no secret, but you must use new tools and processes to automate rather than do manual work.
“Use new technology and systems where those opportunities make sense. We have over 3,000 customers, so we automate as much of the billing process as possible to shorten that window at the end of the month.”
Automated reporting: The backbone of informed decision-making
Manually compiling reports can be time-consuming and error prone. With finance automation tools, the reporting process can be streamlined, saving valuable time.
Financial reporting automation eliminates manual data entry, reduces the risk of errors, and enhances the accuracy and efficiency of reporting activities.
It allows you to automatically collect and consolidate data from various sources, such as your accounting software, customer relationship management (CRM), and other business systems.
This integration ensures that your reports are based on real-time, reliable data, eliminating the need for tedious data manipulation and reconciliation.
This frees up more time to analyse the data, identify trends and gain strategic insights to drive your business forward.
Michelle Delker is the founder and CEO of the William Stanley CFO Group, and an experienced CFO and CPA. On managing month-end books or a profit and loss, she says: “I’ve seen the power of implementing comprehensive and automated reporting systems.
“When done right, this can speed up the close process significantly, allowing more time in analysing financials for actionable insights rather than merely compiling them.
“Regularly revisiting and analysing these elements ensures a real-time snapshot of your financials and provides insights needed to take proactive steps toward enhancing profitability.”
Other real-world applications of financial automation2>
Budgeting and forecasting
Rather than relying on manual spreadsheets, finance automation tools can be employed to create dynamic budgeting and forecasting models.
These models update automatically with real-time data, so projections and scenarios can be adjusted quickly and easily.
Significant time and effort can be saved by streamlining the consolidation process if you manage multiple entities or have complex financial structures.
Finance automation tools can seamlessly draw financial data from numerous sources, allowing you to generate accurate and consolidated financial statements easily.
Automated variance analysis
Analysing the variance between actual and budgeted figures is critical to financial reporting.
Finance automation tools mean that variance analysis can be automatically calculated and presented, enabling you to identify key drivers for financial performance.
Customisable reporting templates
Finance automation offers customisable reporting templates that easily enable the creation of consistent, professional-looking reports.
Comprehensive financial statements, performance dashboards, and other key reports can be generated with just a few clicks.
This not only saves you time, but you also have the flexibility to customise reports based on the specific requirements of your audience.
Beyond reporting—automation’s broader impact
Financial reporting is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the positive impact of automation.
By automating processes, accuracy, consistency, and speed can be increased, ultimately enhancing business performance.
With valuable time freed up, CFOs can oversee impactful transformative projects, such as implementing new technology or expanding into new markets.
Use automation to free up time and resources so you can pursue your wider strategic initiatives—today and in the future, it’s an essential partner in driving business growth and success.
Consider the following steps:
1. Identify key areas for automation
Evaluate your current processes and look for areas you can automate, especially repetitive tasks that require significant resources.
2. Evaluate automation tools
Various tools are at your disposal for automating finance activities, including treasury management systems, financial consolidation software, and finance analytics tools. Seek solutions that address the specific challenges you face.
3. Engage your team
Introduce your team to the benefits and importance of automation, and encourage them not only to embrace it, but also to adopt a mindset of continuous improvement.
4. Continuously assess and improve processes
Finally, regularly assess your automated processes and identify areas for improvement. Ensure that your automation tools are continually updated and optimised for improved performance.
The human impact of financial automation
Automation goes further than streamlining processes—it can positively impact work-life balance and benefit each member of a business.
Moving from tedious tasks to more fulfilling work means employees can experience satisfaction and professional growth, leading to increased motivation and engagement.
Imagine if your teams no longer had to spend hours manually inputting data or reconciling accounts.
Instead, with automation effortlessly handling these tasks, they could concentrate on analysing financial trends, making data-driven recommendations, and collaborating with other departments on strategic initiatives.
Moreover, automation reduces the chances of burnout resulting from repetitive tasks and long working hours.
With automated processes, your people can perform more efficiently and effectively, leaving them with more time for personal activities, hobbies, and spending quality time with loved ones.
Achieving a healthy work-life balance empowers employees and contributes to their overall well-being.
5 benefits of automation for your finance team
There are broader benefits to the entire team beyond a healthier work-life balance.
Teams can accomplish more in less time with automation. This increased efficiency enables them to handle bigger workloads and contribute to the growth and success of the wider business.
Automation minimises human error risk, ensuring tasks are performed with a high level of accuracy. The need for time-consuming manual corrections is reduced, safeguarding the integrity of your data.
Automation tools often provide centralised access to data and streamlined communication channels, enabling seamless collaboration among team members. This fosters greater teamwork, knowledge sharing, and cross-functional problem-solving.
Automation handles mundane tasks, enabling team members to develop new skills and explore additional areas of interest.
Professional growth can be promoted, helping people become more valuable assets to your business.
Automation empowers people to engage in more meaningful and challenging work.
When employees feel fulfilled and supported in their roles, they’re more likely to stay with the organisation, reducing turnover costs and maintaining continuity.
Is AI the final frontier of financial automation?
AI has the power to transform finance through the automation of more complex and data-driven processes.
Through harnessing insights from large data sets, machine learning algorithms can identify trends, predict outcomes, and provide valuable insights that human analysts may miss.
A significant benefit of AI in finance is that it can process and analyse data much faster than humans.
This level of insight provides a sustainable competitive advantage, enabling people to make informed decisions quickly and accurately.
Trends and patterns can be identified in real time, enabling pre-emptive rather than reactive actions to be taken.
These insights can inform critical decisions such as portfolio management, risk assessment, and financial forecasting.
AI-powered chatbots that can handle customer service enquiries could be considered, as well as automated payment systems can process transactions without human intervention.
it’s essential to recognise, however, that AI should not replace human intelligence but augment it; successfully adopting AI technology requires a balance between human insight and machine intelligence.
Final thoughts: The future of finance in the age of automation
The financial landscape is changing rapidly, and automation is at the forefront of this change.
You stand at a pivotal junction as CFO. You can choose to get swept away by the tides of change, or you can take control and ride the wave to success.
The key takeaway is simple but transformative: Automation isn’t about replacing the human element but enhancing it.
By automating routine tasks, you unlock valuable time, which can be channelled into strategic planning, innovation, and driving business growth.
Automation can help you become a strong strategic leader, firmly at the helm of the business, steering it with confidence toward a more prosperous future.
In conclusion, the question isn’t whether you’ll adopt automation—it’s how soon you’ll embrace it to become the future-facing CFO your business needs in today’s Darwinian economic environment.