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Companies urged to address risks when automating finance processes

Companies looking to automate finance back-office processes must ensure that their contracts with software suppliers reflect the potential exposure to risk inherent in relying on technological solutions, an expert in technology contracts has said.12 Jul 2018

Mhairi Mival of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind, was commenting after new research revealed anticipated growth in the automation of finance back-office processes over the next decade.

A study by customer services provider Arvato CRM Solutions and management consulting firm A.T Kearney found that 41% of finance back-office processes could be automated by 2023, and that 53% of such processes could be automated within a decade.

The companies said the automation involved will become increasingly sophisticated over time.

"RPA (robotic process automation) is likely to automate all high volume, repetitive and rule-based tasks in both front-end and the back-end processes in the next three years," they said in their report. "Within this timeframe, RPA solutions will routinely retrieve and enter information across platforms and begin to use analytical skills. By 2023, back office RPA solutions will also be using cognitive capabilities to automatically take decisions on next steps from a fixed menu of options, meaning RPA will also take over tasks that are less rules-based."

"In 10 years time, RPA solutions at both the front end and back end of organisations will be making full use of AI to learn and improve. A decade from now, robots will also be carrying out most back-office processes from end-to-end, with minimal human interaction in cases where no judgment is required, and self-learning features of AI will continuously improve solutions," the report said.

Mival said that while businesses are likely to be attracted by the potential efficiencies offered by automating processes in relation to both the time and cost involved in performing those processes, they need to ensure contractual safeguards are in place to limit their exposure to potential liabilities.

"The promise of being able to speed up the performance of finance functions from end-to-end while at the same time reducing costs will appeal to companies across sectors, but businesses considering adopting robotic process automation must nevertheless be aware of the potential for solutions to fail to live up to their sales hype, or for mistakes in coding to cause errors that have a business impact," Mival said.

"For example, while robotic process automation may cause companies to think about their staffing levels, when considering the business case for the software they will need to factor in the cost of any redundancies alongside any cost savings that are foreseen and the cost and challenge of moving to different systems should the solution not deliver the efficiencies promised – this may seem a negative approach to take, but it should help companies when they negotiate with their supplier to account for these risks in the terms of the contract," she said.

"To account for the potential for errors with the software, businesses looking to implement robotic process automation solutions should also be wary of clauses that exclude their supplier from liability for loss of data and business savings or loss of profit – they will want to ensure that any cap on liability stipulated in the contract is set at a level that covers the potential costs they could encounter should those risks materialise," Mival said.