The Age of Automation: How Tech Can Support Finance Teams

Oscar Caicedo
November 19, 2020

The shift towards digitisation has necessitated a radical adaption and shift in existing tech for industries across the board. As this occurs, tensions and anxieties rise around automation and job losses. With Oxford Economics predicting that 12.5 million manufacturing jobs will be automated in China by 2030, a partially automated workforce is indeed on the horizon.

But human expertise and technology can go hand in hand, with tech supporting teams and boosting productivity tenfold. For businesses, the only way to thrive in an increasingly digital world is to invest in the right technology.

For organisations operating globally, this is of particular importance as an extensive knowledge of governmental financial legislation in many countries is needed. Financial frameworks are complex to navigate and are constantly changing. Real-time VAT reporting is increasingly prevalent worldwide, with continuous transaction controls (CTCs) tightly constricting many different jurisdictions. Without automation, the hours required to manually keep pace with new rules would far exceed realistic human capacity.

For global companies, manually submitting the paperwork for audits and reports is neither sustainable nor sensible. But an additional problem for those operating in multiple jurisdictions is how to keep pace with ever changing rules and government regulations required for business transactions.

Digital governments

Global governments have been reviewing how they measure and collect tax returns with the aim of improving economic standards in their countries. Digitising return processes gives way for a much more forensic and accurate view of a nation’s economic health, and so it’s unsurprising that automated invoicing and reporting has pushed its way to the top of the agenda in recent years.

How the approach is taken to upgrading many transactions and interactions is contingent on specific country viewpoints – certain jurisdictions enforce varying levels of CTCs, real-time invoicing, archiving and reporting of trade documentation. Those operating internationally will feel the additional pressure to accurately track and comply with multiple and complex laws with threatening hefty non-compliance fines. Trading and operating within the law now requires intelligent technology and infrastructure.

Approaches across the globe differ; Latin America pioneered mandatory B2B clearance of e-invoices, and Brazil requires full clearance through a government platform. In Europe, the EU-VAT directive prohibits countries from introducing full e-invoicing – though Italy bucked this trend in 2019, following a lengthy derogation process. As economies shift to a data-driven business model, the move towards a digital tax regime is inevitable.

Machine learning

The VAT gap continues to confound governments across the globe. To combat it, many nations have created their own systems which in turn make a patchwork of mechanisms unable to communicate with each other. To add to this, the slow adoption of e-invoices in many countries has caused a completely fractured picture – VAT information is still being reported periodically in many countries, with each jurisdiction setting its own standard. We’re a long way from consistency in global digitisation.

As more countries develop their own specific take on digitising invoicing, things look increasingly complex. New regulatory legislation continues to surface and keeping track can cause headaches and accidental noncompliance. Global firms must maintain a keen eye on developments as they happen in all the countries where they operate and its essential they apply systems which can track and update new legislation as it happens.

But tech also needs to give an accurate reflection of an entire business’ finances, linking together all the different systems to accurately report tax. This is why flexible APIs are the first order of priority. Programmes with sophisticated APIs enable tax systems to ‘plug in’ to a business and gather vital information, in turn allowing firms to showcase the necessary data, display accurate results and avoid government penalties. It’s essential that technology can integrate with a number of billing systems, ERPs, and procure-to-pay platforms when approaching sensitive government interactions. The volumes of data created and handled are enormous, and increasingly out of the realms of human possibility.

Likewise, tech can assist in formatting information as per the requests of each country, which is essential for digital reporting. Technology exists to monitor and adjust invoice formats, for example, to suit the country a business is operating in and avoid non-compliance penalties. With time usually of the essence and in short supply, tools that automate admin and free up time for strategic elements of business finance pay for themselves in dividends. Effectively, as machines are increasingly ingrained in operations, manual analytics become more challenging. Both governments and businesses are leaning on automation and advanced technology to ease the resulting administrative burdens.

Automate to comply

A truly digital future is in the grasp of many economies, but it comes at a price. To capitalise on the rapid wave of digital transformation, businesses must arm themselves with technology to manage the increasing realm of complex and data-driven regulations. It makes sense to invest in tools that can handle labour-intensive analysis and research tasks to streamline processes and alleviate the burdens faced by finance teams without the need for costly expert staff or outsourced support. On the verge of a fully digital way of working, manually submitting the paperwork for audits and reports is no longer viable or practical.

But technology must be carefully selected to synchronise and communicate vital information across a business’ IT infrastructure. In the current recession driven context, the pressure on finance teams to perform at their best, safeguard against any financial leaks and strictly monitor expenses and outgoings has intensified. In the face of adversity, tech can guide and support us – and could become business critical.

Investing in automation doesn’t have to cost jobs – it can instead go hand in hand with human expertise, manage arduous and complex tasks while freeing up time and energy so businesses can concentrate on what they do best.

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Author

Oscar Caicedo

As vice president of strategy and operations for VAT Americas, Oscar Caicedo sets market and product direction across continuous transaction controls, reporting and tax determination. In this role, he leads groups of dedicated subject matter experts across the Americas region. Oscar brings more than a decade of experience leading consulting and implementation teams focusing on data integration and regulatory requirements. He is an industry recognized expert in digital transformation and electronic tax solutions. Prior to Sovos, Oscar spent more than four years at Invoiceware, which was acquired by Sovos in 2016. Oscar has managed complex implementation projects for many of the world’s most recognizable brands. He holds a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in business economics from Georgia State University.
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