Running a business requires managing a complex set of processes to ensure that money moves around in the necessary ways internally, and that external stakeholders are paid quickly. 

For many businesses, especially those that use various tools and software in their operations, finance processes may feel automated. But when you break them down, you realize that many aspects of financial operations actually depend on substantial manual effort and repetitive tasks.

For example, your business may have an accounting system in place to help monitor expenses, and an ERP system for procurement. These solutions streamline certain financial processes, but they still leave you relying on manual tools and operations for others. Spreadsheets that track account data are updated manually. Payment and purchasing requests require manual processing. Pricing quotes are sent out manually. And so on.

By automating all aspects of your business’s finance process, you can achieve greater visibility, faster, error-free performance, and control over your business’s finances. 

Routine finance business processes

A typical business relies on a variety of finance processes: a process to handle purchasing for goods and services; accounts payable and receivable processes for issuing and accepting payments from vendors; payroll systems for delivering paychecks to employees and contractors; a reimbursement process for employees; systems for managing tax payment and debt servicing, and more. 

But if all of these processes are handled separately, or automated with different tools or platforms that are not integrated with other financial systems, it becomes difficult to locate financial information and prevent human errors, and businesses end up relying on people spread across departments to handle financial data input and management.

How to improve finance business processes

Although automation tools are commonly used to streamline certain parts of certain processes—such as printing and distributing paychecks—most businesses still depend on people to approve requests, and manage or oversee each step in each financial process. But that is changing.

Smart finance managers can get to a whole new level of productivity and efficiency by integrating automation into nearly every financial process imaginable. Businesses can create process maps to identify which components of their finance processes can be automated, then implement process automation to move beyond manual systems and create approval flows. What’s more, these automation tools provide continuous, real-time insight into their processes so that they can make improvements on an ongoing basis.

What is finance process automation?

Finance automation combines people, tools and processes through automated workflows to increase efficiency. Automating finance business processes such as accounts payable, purchasing, and employee reimbursement reduces costs, minimizes human errors and allows vendors, customers and suppliers to respond more quickly in order to increase overall productivity.

By unlocking these benefits, organizations can achieve a finance operation that is both more efficient and more effective in creating value for the business.

What are the benefits of finance automation?

Finance teams that rely on manual processes and tools like email and spreadsheets to manage finance data and operations are prone to confusion, data loss, and errors. By standardizing, automating and integrating these processes, teams minimize mistakes, improve collaboration, and increase overall productivity.

The benefits of finance automation include:

  • Control: Finance automation helps teams adhere to finance management best practices and standardize their operations. They can also take advantage of policy-based controls and automation rules to mitigate errors. The result is higher SLA compliance levels and greater customer satisfaction.
  • Visibility: An automated finance solution that connects all systems together and collects data from them provides full visibility into all of the moving pieces in your finance pipelines—contracts, invoices, vendor information and more—without requiring employees to toggle between multiple tools or sort through information manually. 
  • Integration: Finance automation software can integrate with other common financial tools, such as QuickBooks and Excel, serving as the missing piece that ties all aspects of your finance operation together in an automated, error-free way.
  • Expedited approval flows: With automation, reviews and approvals don’t become a bottleneck in finance processes. All necessary approvals can be obtained hassle-free and on time. In addition, you can use rules to ensure that no transactions are completed without proper approval in place.
  • Accurate planning: Mistakes in finance can be costly. That’s why it’s critical to reduce errors at every opportunity. Automation can help you protect the integrity of your reporting—and your company’s reputation—so that leaders can build financial strategies with confidence. 
  • Effective use of resources: When processes are organized, your team can spend less time trying to understand how to perform a specific process, and more time crunching the numbers, building reports, and making sound business decisions.
  • Improve information accessibility: Break down silos and improve communications through automation. Make it easy for anyone to create a request, and even easier to track, view, and report. Customized form fills add consistency to your processes,  and triggered emails and notifications mean fewer routine tasks for you to worry about. 
  • Examples of finance process automation

    Consider the following finance process automation examples, which illustrate use cases from a variety of contexts.

    Finance

    Finance teams often struggle to balance all the moving parts needed to keep their businesses healthy. Managing finances through email, spreadsheets, and disparate tools adds confusion and increases opportunities for error. Standardizing and automating these processes can help your team minimize mistakes, improve collaboration, and increase productivity.

    Accounts payable

    An accounts payable department typically includes several manual processes, such as:

  • Making sure invoices are properly approved before issuing payment
  • Ensuring sufficient funds for each payment
  • Adhering to payment terms that vary from one vendor to another
  • Finance automation software addresses these processes by connecting your accounts payable system directly to purchasing or reimbursement workflows to be sure you process only approved invoices. You can also use automation to integrate accounts payable processes with financial planning tools so that budget is allocated automatically before invoices reach accounts payable.

    Expense reimbursement

    Reimbursement requests that seem straightforward can become backlogged when there are many employees submitting requests in multiple channels. Common challenges include:

  • Employees running afoul of expense policies that may be unclear
  • Poor visibility into expenses because of unstructured forms or lack of integration with other systems
  • Delayed reimbursements due to expense reports that are filed late, or are missing information
  • Finance automation software can address these pain points by:

  • Providing a repository for clear information on common travel costs
  • Providing a structured workflow for each reimbursement request
  • Sending automatic notifications to approvers
  • Allowing employees to track the status of their requests
  • Integration with other financial systems—such as Quickbooks, Oracle or ERP software—can provide historical data so expense trends can be analyzed easily.

    Purchasing & Procurement

    The ad hoc nature of many purchasing requests results in purchase requisitions with missing, erroneous, or incomplete information. Common problems include: 

  • Lack of spending control and visibility due to impromptu orders and purchases made outside the company procurement process
  • Incomplete or inaccurate data due to unstructured request forms, manual data entry, or receiving requests from multiple channels
  • Contract compliance issues that arise when a finance department must examine the contractual obligations of multiple suppliers
  • Avoid these issues by using finance automation software to standardize purchase request creation, and set purchasing conditions, mandatory actions and automation rules that prevent errors and ensure policy compliance when purchasing requests are processed.

    In short, finance process automation software—integrated with existing ERPs and other financial apps—can add consistency, reduce errors, and speed processing for a variety of financial workflows. The result is not only a smoother overall financial operation but also greater business agility, because financial processes no longer become bottlenecks for other business workflows.

    Finance process automation made easy

    Finance processes are complex, but they don’t have to be complicated. Integrating a process management tool into your finance workflows brings control, accountability, and efficiency to your team’s work. 

    Pipefy helps you take charge of your finance processes by automating repetitive tasks and creating the visibility you need to manage your team. You’ll also find it easier to centralize information and improve communications within your department, as well as with vendors and customers. 

    Your success depends on processes that range from the simple to the complex, each requiring multiple inputs from a variety of stakeholders.