Why CPAs should care about RPA

Shutterstock_1287129859Big data. The Fourth Industrial Revolution. You’ve heard it before — automation will change how we work. While exciting, the prospect of mastering new technology — or even the lingo — can seem overwhelming at times. What does automation really mean, and how will it affect your career specifically?

Whether you’re new to the profession, own your own company or work within the finance function of a business, the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants is here to empower you with the knowledge you need to stay relevant. Our resources make it easy to learn about some of the hottest technology, like automation, data analytics and cybersecurity.

Robotic process automation (RPA) is especially important for CPAs. Realizing that everyone is at different places along the adoption curve, let’s break RPA into smaller chunks.

What is RPA?

The reason for the debate? RPA isn’t inherently smart. An RPA “bot” is a software application that performs automated tasks and only follows a human’s instructions. It doesn’t think or learn, and isn’t a physical robot that you might be picturing (Star Wars fans, sorry to disappoint).

Some RPA software vendors are expanding into intelligent bots, and those bots definitely fall under the AI umbrella. RPA is considered a stepping-stone towards AI.

RPA can make people’s work lives easier, including CPAs’. If you've ever created mail merges or macros in Excel, you've already worked with automation. Check out this this 60-second video for a quick look at automation.

What can RPA do for you?

Think of all those mundane tasks you do on a routine basis. With automation, you can delegate those to bots. Here are just a few of the easy, time-consuming tasks that RPA can handle:

  • Data entry
  • Auditing high-dollar transactions
  • Verifying and processing invoices
  • Accounts payable & receivable
  • Inventory management
  • Tax compliance and preparation
  • Regulatory compliance and reporting

Automation’s purpose isn’t to replace CPAs. TurboTax didn’t and neither will RPA. Its role is to work alongside you to save you time — time you can spend on higher value, more profitable work like strategic planning and advisory services.

Businesses are rapidly adopting RPA. According to Deloitte, 58% of large organizations have already embarked on their RPA journeys. In a poll conducted during an Oracle and AICPA & CIMA webcast in July 2020, more than 1,000 finance leaders said implementing automation was one of their top strategies to transform their businesses. Find out more in Reimagining Finance for the New Normal.

What are the benefits of using RPA?

  • Speeds up manual processes
  • Reduces errors
  • Works alongside your current systems
  • Improves audit quality and compliance
  • Frees staff from labor-intensive tasks to focus on more profitable, high-value work

How to get started

RPA is relatively inexpensive and quick to implement. It overlays existing systems and can replicate human keyboarding, so there’s no re-programming or changes needed to current systems or cloud applications. The proof-of-concept stage is often completed quickly with the launch phase following right behind.

Now that you know about the low cost and relatively easy implementation, you’ll want to further educate yourself about RPA.

  1. Read articles and other free resources. Start with our RPA interactive brochure — it’s full of helpful advice.
  2. Access free CPE credits through the Digital Mindset Pack, offered to all AICPA members. You can learn about the fundamentals of RPA, data analytics or cybersecurity. For more on RPA, check out our RPA Learning Programs or listen to the latest RPA episode in the Go Beyond Disruption podcast.
  3. Evaluate RPA vendor software using our RPA Vendor Checklist.
  4. Think about the processes that could be automated in your firm or your clients’ organizations.
  5. Build consensus with relevant colleagues and potential senior sponsors in the business. Get their support.

Always remember, bots can’t make judgments. They only do what we tell them to do. Your ability to synthesize, analyze, strategize and communicate insights in a clear and meaningful way means you’re in charge of the high-value, high visibility work — the work that makes careers.

Association Staff