Robotic Process Automation in Public Accounting
Accounting Horizons, 33 (4): 15-35
62 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2018 Last revised: 15 Jul 2020
Date Written: 2019
This study investigates the adoption and use of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) software—often referred to as bots—in the public accounting industry. Accounting firms use RPA software to automate the input, processing, and output of data across computer applications in order to streamline repetitive and mundane business processes. We conducted individual, semi-structured interviews with 14 accounting professionals including at least two RPA leaders at each of the Big 4 accounting firms to gain insights into how RPA software is currently being used. Interviewees note that bots are implemented in all areas of the firm but have gained the most traction in tax services, followed by advisory services and assurance services. Interviewees report that bot implementation has increased quality and resulted in stunning increases in efficiency—although bots are a nascent technology, firms report improved processing times by 70 to 80 percent and reductions of over one million human work hours in 2017. Although bots are more efficient, respondents report that bot implementation is not reducing headcount, but it is decreasing offshoring and increasing employees’ job satisfaction and upward career mobility. In addition, respondents provide perspective on skills that will be needed to succeed in an accounting profession that melds RPA and human judgments. This study is the first to identify and discuss the potential benefits, opportunities, and challenges to implementing RPA in the accounting profession and serves as a catalyst to spur future research in this area.
Keywords: Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Automation, Accounting Efficiency, Accounting Effectiveness, Hiring Decisions, Offshoring
JEL Classification: M4, M40, M41, M42, M31
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation