Leading-edge finance automation in India

We have a philosophy in the Tech and Business and Management Faculties that we want to learn from the best, and our international collaborative projects enable us to do that. We went to China to learn about big data and the internet of things, to Singapore to learn about fintech, and now we are collaborating with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in India (ICAI) to find out more about automation in finance functions.

We have looked at automation, and RPA in particular, in the last few years, but a consistent comment from UK-based finance functions is that they often don’t have the scale and volume of transactions to justify heavy investment in automation technologies. Instead, that work has been outsourced and/or frequently off-shored to India and other countries. So, when we had the opportunity to develop a collaborative research project with ICAI, automation jumped out as an interesting topic where we could learn from large, transaction-based finance activity in India.

This week, a high-level delegation from ICAI visited Chartered Accountants’ Hall to sign a new Memorandum of Understanding with ICAEW for deeper co-operation between the two bodies. Therefore, we took the opportunity to do some initial knowledge-sharing with a joint roundtable. A small number of ICAEW members and contacts talked through their current experience with automation, and we had some findings and case studies based on the research done to date in India.

While we are still in early stages of the research, a few points stood out to me in the discussions:

  • There are lots of different ways to automate and a lot of technologies out there. We have focused a lot on RPA, because it has sparked a lot of interest. But there are many other areas of software that can achieve similar results, and we need to think broadly about the topic.
  • The need to help staff retrain for other roles and manage staff concerns was paramount. Companies were generally managing reductions in staff numbers through natural attrition rather than redundancy. Furthermore, there was no doubt that the jobs being automated were very dull and repetitive, and staff welcomed the opportunity to do more interesting work. However, the longer term impact of automation still remains to be seen.
  • There was a strong emphasis on agile ways of doing things. The value of just putting business and technical people together to learn and figure out better ways of doing things was a particular point. This could help companies get out of ‘pilot purgatory’ quickly and effectively scaling up uses of technology.

The research will continue over the coming months and we hope to have a report in the first half of 2020. You can see a picture of the delegation for the MOU signing below.