Robotic process automation (RPA) is transforming finance functions across the globe. Mimicking the clicks and keystrokes of a human to carry out repetitive tasks, RPA has wide-reaching applicability across many finance and accounting processes. As the adoption rate of RPA increases, more AI is being integrated into RPA software offerings, further expanding the process types it can transform. With most RPA journeys continuing to begin in the finance and accounting department, this technology will inevitably lead to predictable redundancies along with a host of new opportunities for professionals willing to upskill.

RPA’s low technical barrier allows business professionals to play technical roles since minimal programming knowledge is required for low- to medium-complexity use case development. In an IMA webinar on RPA held in March 2020, 34% of the nearly 1,500 attendees said they believed RPA to be the emerging technology that would have the greatest impact on the finance and accounting profession in the next three years, followed by AI and data science at second and third, respectively. And 64% of respondents who knew the status of the RPA journey in their organizations said the journey began or is slated to begin in the finance and accounting area.

With RPA projected to have such a significant impact on our profession, management accountants should take strides to ensure they’re prepared to fill the roles that this technology is introducing. Specifically, accountants and financial professionals should actively seek out opportunities to narrow their own digital skills gap, become conversant in RPA technology, explore RPA governance, learn how to deliver value with RPA, and understand the various roles management accountants can fill in an RPA program.


Prior to upskilling with RPA, you must begin with the basics. A foundational knowledge of RPA is important for management accountants because of the large number of finance and accounting processes that can benefit from RPA. With automation on the rise and the drive for cost reductions and efficiency at unprecedented levels, RPA awareness should be on every management accountant’s radar.

A solid RPA foundation can benefit professionals, students, and academics alike. Working professionals may find themselves performing RPA-related tasks. Students will kick-start their careers prepared to leverage RPA or other emerging digital technologies. And academics will find themselves better prepared to provide the future generation of accountants with the skills and competencies they will need in the workforce. All forward-thinking professionals should have a basic working definition of RPA as well as an understanding of the impact of RPA on the finance and accounting profession, a clear concept of RPA software functionality at a high level, and the general actions that can be taken to learn more.


For all the benefits RPA has to offer, there are a host of risks. When internal leaders and external auditors seek to stand up or evaluate an RPA program, they look for the most critical component: governance. Governance mitigates risk. And members of the finance function, longtime data stewards and compliance experts, are well-­positioned to lead the governance process.

Management accountants should familiarize themselves with the key risks associated with RPA as well as best practices in governance to mitigate those risks. A good start would be the January 2020 Strategic Finance article, “Govern Your Bots!”, where an outline of prerequisites to governance implementation and the key components of a successful governance rollout are detailed.


Not all processes make good RPA candidates. Many organizations, large and small, fail to realize financial benefits from RPA because they don’t automate the right processes. This means selecting processes that can be sustainably maintained with RPA software and that will deliver value to the organization.

Management accountants are the subject-matter experts on finance and accounting processes and, consequently, should play a key role in identifying and evaluating candidates for automation. Pairing this process expertise with knowledge of what makes a good RPA candidate, how to prepare a business case for automation solutions, and what key performance indicators should be tracked will certainly result in an RPA program that positively impacts the bottom line.


The fact that so many organizations begin their RPA journeys with finance and accounting processes translates into management accountants working with data generated by a virtual robot, fewer traditional finance and accounting roles, and new technology-enabling roles. Thus, it’s important for management accountants to understand the roles and required skills needed for RPA implementation.

It’s equally important to know that organizations of any size often have the same roles in their RPA programs; it’s simply expected that small and midsized organizations have a few individuals filling multiple roles. Understanding what roles are being created empowers management accountants to focus upskilling efforts more strategically, from deepening RPA development skills for those eager to build processes for robots to reinforcing documentation or valuation competencies for those solely seeking to support RPA implementations within the scope of their current roles.


The race for relevance has begun. The time to act is now. RPA adoption is widespread among large-scale enterprises and is beginning to gain traction in many midsized organizations. Because this technology is directly impacting finance and accounting processes, it’s important for management accountants to understand how to play a role in the front end of automation rather than being solely on the receiving end. Further, in a world where management accountants will ultimately perform processes with data received from a digital worker or help to define processes and controls for robots, exposure to a comprehensive view of risks and value associated with RPA is critical.

Anyone eager to become an RPA developer can visit the leading RPA software vendor sites to find training resources that will make you intimately familiar with the software and allow you to get hands-on development experience. For those looking to begin or contribute to an RPA implementation in their organization, no matter the size, IMA is launching a four-part CPE course on RPA geared toward providing accountants and financial professionals with the foundation needed for such an effort, as well as publishing an upcoming Statement on Management Accounting titled Transforming the Finance Function with RPA.

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