Confirming what many have known for some time, automation is having a profound impact on the treasury function at some of the world's biggest multinationals. Statoil, the Norwegian oil company, has reduced its finance department from 1400 at the end of 2013 to 897 finance employees at the end of 2017 – a reduction of more than one-third. This is part of a concerted effort to cut costs through a push to roll out automated processes. So far, Statoil says it has automated more than 50 finance and treasury tasks, including sending payment reminders, accounts reconciliation, data collection and payments to suppliers. The robots are even able to submit filings to the Norwegian statistics office.
The company's CFO, Hans Jakob Hegge, told the Wall Street Journal's CFO Blog (subscription required) that the company's first robot for automating treasury tasks – named Roberta – has helped them improve efficiency. More robots have since been introduced to the department (including one called Rob). And although many of the robots are operating in a pilot capacity, it seems that the company is planning to continue down the route to further automation. Mr Hegge told the WSJ's Nina Trentmann: “We will continue to shrink the finance function in terms of our full-time employees.”
Automation has brought Statoil annual cost savings of $4.5 billion since the end of 2013 and the WSJ reports that other energy firms, including Royal Dutch Shell, are also currently exploring the automation of certain finance and treasury tasks. However, automation doesn't come cheap and the paper reports that Statoil plans to spend up to $2 billion on digitising its operations in the next two years.
CTMfile take: Statoil's reported cost savings are huge and no global company will be ignoring the potential of automation in the financial function. We'll be hearing more stories like this in future.
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