Hong Kong firms told to embrace financial automation or lose competitive edge

Hurdles for adopting automation technologies include cost effectiveness and lack of awareness, finds KPMG and ACCA Hong Kong survey 

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 March, 2018, 8:05am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 March, 2018, 8:29am

Around 80 per cent of Hong Kong companies are either unaware of automation technologies in finance or have no current plans to adopt them, as companies are yet to figure out where and how to start using the technologies, according to a survey conducted by KPMG China and the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants Hong Kong.

A failure to invest in robotic process automation, a form of digital labour, could cost companies their competitive edge, it added.

The findings were based on 388 responses from senior Hong Kong executives, as well as professionals from the finance and accounting sector, working in companies with annual revenues ranging from under HK$50 million (US$6.3 million) to over HK$200 million. 

Seventy-seven per cent of the companies polled said they believe their firms have much more potential to embrace automation technology, but only 7 per cent have allocated an annual budget for developing it. 

Only 4 per cent of those surveyed said their finance departments were highly automated.

Major obstacles include perceived benefits of using automation do not outweigh the costs, lack of knowledge or awareness of firms on what is possible and where to start use automation, as well as concerns from companies over the people impact of automation or the view that automation is not necessary, the findings showed. 

Although sectors like technology, telecommunications and banking and finance were leading in the use of automation, manufacturing was way behind.  

“Now is the perfect time for Hong Kong firms to act,” said Eunice Chu, head of policy at ACCA Hong Kong. “The economy is doing well and we are well positioned. If you don’t do it, somebody will, if you don’t take the lead, somebody will.”

Isabel Zisselsberger, head of financial management at KPMG China, said that China was moving very quickly and it was very open to adopting new technologies, experimenting and taking risks.

“While Hong Kong is not lagging behind big cities in this area including mainland China and Singapore at the moment, Hong Kong firms need to step forward and take the initiative and make some investment in robotics process automation, otherwise there is a chance they will lag behind eventually,” she said.

The findings of the survey are more or less in line with the overall trend of companies in the Asia-Pacific region adopting automation.

Nearly 85 per cent of companies in this region said they plan to expand their use of automation in the next three years, while 23 per cent of their work is expected to be automated on average, according to a recent survey by consultancy Willis Towers Watson.