Shortly after Deanna Strable was promoted to CFO at Principal Financial in February 2017, she attended a conference for finance executives. While networking, she found that about half of the group was talking about robotic process automation.

“To be honest, I didn’t even know what RPA was at that time,” Strable says.

But the use cases her co-attendees had already found, mostly in accounts payable and finance operations, were eye-opening. She went back to the office and got to work, enlisting the aid of an IT executive to create a pilot program.

The processes identified as being ripe for automation “were maybe not the most complicated ones or those with the most potential benefits, but rather those we felt we could get up and running quickly and start to give people some exposure to what could be done with robotics,” Strable recalls.

One bot was deployed in treasury, to run a daily process of reconciling cash and liquidity positions across a number of accounts.

When Strable viewed a demo of the bot in action, the process had to be slowed down so the human eye could follow it.

“It was just amazing, seeing it log into different systems, export data into Excel worksheets, format the worksheets, and identify outliers that needed to be emailed to a person.”

Another pilot bot was programmed to automate data collection for a set of tax reports and streamline some of the manual tasks related to producing the reports. While the bot was built to handle a certain type of report, “we built it in a way that makes it very easy to replicate the coding to work for other types of reports,” the CFO says.

A third bot performs daily reconciliations of bank accounts to the balances showing in Principal’s ledger systems. Previously, a person spent four hours per day on the task; that’s been greatly reduced.

While Principal’s RPA journey has barely begun, it’s already viewed as a big success. “Figuring out the ROI is easy,” says Strable. “Just what we have in production right now should save us 75,000 hours annually.” | D.M.

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