The Case for Automation in Financial Reporting
First published on CBROnline.com, by Dermot Murray, Wedneday, July 31, 2019.
Financial reporting is a critical corporate function, acting as a factual porthole into the health of an organisation. At the head of this process is the CFO, whose reputation ultimately rests on delivering the most precise and timely financial reports for the organisation. This process can entail a number of responsibilities, including closing the books and consolidating group results, as well as publishing statutory and management accounts.
This process can entail a number of responsibilities, including closing the books and consolidating group results, as well as publishing statutory and management accounts.
Financial reporting is not necessarily a cheap task – and despite the amount spent to reduce some of the lofty and time-consuming processes, high levels of dissatisfaction around accuracy remains according to a Workiva survey with the FSN Modern Finance Forum. More than half (55%) of financial leaders that participated in this study are concerned about whether internal controls work during reporting periods, raising serious questions about data integrity. Beyond that, 46% worry about unexpected errors being identified in a critical spreadsheet, and 40% are uncertain that their data is always trustworthy and accurate.
But data integrity and uncertainty aren’t the only issues plaguing finance executives. Many CFOs are grappling with a rigid reporting process – with 60% spending an unnecessary amount of time on data cleaning and manipulation and 54% focused on battling fragmented systems that require data from multiple sources. With so much time being wasted, the reporting process is becoming increasingly bloated and convoluted, leaving CFOs without a clear grip on the process.
When finance executives don’t feel confident during the reporting process, the margin for error naturally grows. This is a major concern, especially as the majority of today’s CFOs see data accuracy as the biggest obstacle in their jobs – according to a recent report by Adaptive Insights. What’s ultimately needed is the elimination of time-consuming and error-prone processes related to compiling, reporting, and analysing business data.
Using Automation as an End-to-end Solution
In order to alleviate the burden, leading CFOs and other financial executives have moved towards using innovation that helps modernise traditional processes. A key innovation is document production tools. The reasons vary from organisation to organisation, but automation of this kind has proven to be especially beneficial during data collection, as it’s often the most vulnerable part of the process due to errors in implementation. Automation at this stage of the process can help can ultimately ensure that there is consistent and accurate data across reports.
As an end-to-end solution, such tools can help streamline the process of document consolidation, production, review, and approval, which means that it impacts each phase of the financial reporting framework: gathering, aggregating, and sharing. More broadly, automation:
One additional commonality that makes an end-to-end solution powerful is the fact that it has to be able to work globally. This means that it has to work across geographies, cultures, languages, and time zones. As no surprise, this complexity presents a unique set of challenges to the corporate finance function. Luckily, automation and working within the cloud have solved these problems.
Looking beyond processes, automation can have positive impact on a business’s return on investment (ROI). Each day, hours are given back through the elimination of clerical tasks, such as scanning and uploading documents, formatting graphs and charts, and amending PDFs. These hours that are used to facilitate menial tasks can be given back to executives across the business, which gives them the freedom to focus on data analysis and corporate strategy – ultimately work that contributes value to the business.
As it stands, nearly 75% of enterprises rely on more than six different reporting systems—including ERP, CRM and HCM, according to EY. However, when data is exported and disconnected from its source, the information within those reporting systems has the potential to lose context and risk inconsistencies. By incorporating automation into the reporting process, financial executives are able to improve access to real-time data, ensure consistencies throughout all documents, and most importantly, produce accurate reports regardless of location, time, or language. In the end, organisations that integrate forward-thinking technology have the potential to outpace competitors and produce a significant ROI. And those who don’t keep pace with innovation will likely fall behind with inaccuracies and inconsistent data that leaves them further out of grips with the modern-day process.
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