October 28, 2020

What is Accounting Automation?

Cathrine Andersen

In March, 2021, Roger officially became Corpay One. To learn more and understand the change, read this blog post.

Are you letting these common concerns hold you back from adopting automation in your finance department?

On a high level, you probably already know that accounting automation is the process of making day-to-day accounting tasks run automatically, like magic. Most accounting firms or finance teams turn to automation when they want to run their business more efficiently, scale more quickly, or spend the majority of their working hours on strategic planning rather than tedious tasks. 

The concept has been around since the early 2000s and adoption of digital accounting tools has sharply increased over the last couple of years. But, true accounting automation is something elusive in the marketplace. 

Since co-founding Roger, I have worked with hundreds of companies to help them adopt accounting automation. But some CFOs and finance team leaders are still on the fence.

If that’s you, let me address the common misconceptions and concerns I often hear, including:

  • Are we trying to replace accountants with automation?
  • The biggest mistake that finance teams make in regards to automation
  • How do you get started with automation when you don’t have the time to overhaul your accounting workflows completely?
  • What should you look for in an accounting automation software?

But first, let’s dive a bit deeper in how we define accounting automation.

What is accounting automation today?

The term ‘accounting automation’ has been used very loosely for the past 10-15 years to define all kinds of tools and semi-automated improvements to everyday processes. The tools of the past were not built to transform into artificial intelligence companies. But what they’ve done is introduce incremental improvements and gotten accounting professionals used to the idea of workflow automation. With new capabilities around deep learning and artificial intelligence, now is the time where we’ll truly see automation take shape.

I see it as a complete transformation in how you can run your business. 

All your bills can magically be paid on time. 

Potentially fraudulent transactions can be flagged in real-time. 

And the reports you need are always ready to go. 

A heartwarming story that always sticks with me is of one client who told us that he’s been able to free up so much time in his business that he could confidently tell his wife that he was ready for baby number two. 

That’s really what accounting automation is all about—making a significant improvement in the quality of life of financial professionals. 

On a more technical level, with Roger, we’ve taken the approach of automating from A to Z, step by step. 

That means starting with the data entry portion of transcribing all the documents that flow through the financial workflow and putting all that information straight into the accounting system. Those could be all the actions that happen in a finance department or in an accounting firm such as performing bill payments, doing expense reimbursements, matching receipts to transactions in a bank statement. Then, we can use that data as a basis to build automated workflows and dig up insights about your business, vendors, spending and compliance.

We believe there is an opportunity to go much deeper than accounting automation has in the past while solving each task intelligently. 

Does accounting automation software want to eliminate accountants and bookkeepers?

Accountants and bookkeepers are the people who make up our customer base and our user base. They’re the ones we serve. 

We have never come across an accounting firm or a finance team that said they want to implement Roger to get rid of all their accountants. Their motivation (and ours) is about setting up the business for future success and improving their team’s job satisfaction. Accountants, CPAs, and bookkeepers are highly educated professionals who don’t want to spend all their time on tedious tasks that could easily be handled by a machine.

Accounting automation is not without its limitations. The software does get smarter over time and can surface more and more relevant data to finance teams. But there will always be a human on the other side that takes that insight and turns it into a business strategy. 

We’re augmenting the essential skills of accountants and bookkeepers, not replacing them. 

What’s the biggest mistake companies make with regards to accounting automation?

The biggest mistake I see companies make is saying that they don’t have time to introduce automation into their existing processes. I get it. 

We all get used to the way we do our jobs and get into a particular groove that works. 

I used to think I was too busy to take the time away from my work to implement new workflows. But I’ve completely changed my mind after finally getting on board and seeing the difference that it makes. I would rather spend two hours today to introduce a better process so that I can save one hour every week for the next year (or 52 hours!). 

As the age-old saying goes, work smarter not harder.

What is a good starting point with automation for a finance team or staff accountant?

One common misconception I see around accounting automation is that it’s a daunting task to transform your workflows. Many people don’t realize that you can get started in a lightweight way. You don’t have to do everything all at once. It can be as simple as replacing one manual process with an automated one and then you can add on more and more over time. It’s not a complete overhaul overnight or a 3-month long project. It’s a gradual process that can go at whatever pace you want.

In terms of where to start, I recommend you first take an audit of your existing processes and then determine where you want to automate based on your goals. 

For instance, we talk to a lot of CFOs and financial controllers who want to spend less time on the data entry aspect so that they can focus more on the reporting and analysis side. In their case, they might start with invoice and receipt scanning to automatically enter that data into the system.

Make a list of all your existing processes, such as for bill payments or reimbursements. 

Then map out every single step in that process similar to a flow chart. Involve your teammates in this exercise to make sure you’re not missing any steps that you might not be aware of. I find it extremely helpful to visualize your workflows so that you can see which processes are too long or complicated. 

Then, you can begin to tackle one manual task or process at a time. We’ve created a workflow builder that you can use almost in the same way that you would use Zapier. You can start with one straightforward automation. Then, build every team process into Roger.

If this still sounds daunting, know that you don’t have to do it alone. That’s why we have implementation specialists on our team who are certified accountants. You can book a free implementation session with one of them to help you figure out where to start, how to customize your automated workflow to your needs, and how all your tools can sync together.

What should you look for in accounting automation software?

Although I want you to jump in and start automating right away, I also want to help you choose the right automation software that will serve you for years to come. Here are four things to look for in an accounting or finance automation software:

  • Security and compliance: security is always a consideration where financial data is involved. Some things to look for are: the ability to detect duplicate bills, built-in audit trails to see who has made changes, automatic fraud detection, and the ability to remove the handling of payments from your team (Roger is backed by a bank that issues payments securely for our users).
  • Quick onboarding: look for a system that doesn’t require a long time to implement. You should be able to get started on your own but also have the option to ask for help from a real human.
  • User-friendly interface: your team won’t adopt a tool if it’s not intuitive and easy to use. Usability is especially important if you’re trying to break those traditional silos where one finance person handles everything (which is a compliance issue by the way). To scale more rapidly, you have to be able to delegate some less critical tasks to the rest of the organization. You have the chance to make the whole process more collaborative, which means that you can have team members from different departments add bills, handle expense reports, or perform approvals. But those people are not used to using accounting tools, so it needs to be intuitive for them.
  • Frequent software updates: you have to have confidence that the people behind the software are forward-thinking and always innovating on the capabilities of the product. The software should be built on the newest technologies, not those from 10 years ago. If not, that automation tool risks becoming outdated very quickly. So look for companies that release new features frequently and are eager to talk about their vision. 

If there’s only one thing I hope you take away from this article, it’s that the time is now. Not next year, not in 2025. So, are you ready to jump over the fence and start automating your accounting? 

I’m clearly biased in this opinion, but Roger is the best software for finance professionals that are new to this whole automation thing, but are ready to get serious about it. 

We integrate with the rest of your tech stack, empowering your organization to scale and grow while Roger takes care of the heavy lifting and eliminates manual tasks that slow you down.

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