Robots finds a welcome reception among China’s finance and tax services

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 September, 2017, 8:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 September, 2017, 9:52pm

Mainland based accountants are embracing automation to lower office administration costs and enhance efficiency, moves which are opening the door to a wider embrace of artificial intelligence (AI).

Delixi Electric, a manufacturer of low-voltage electrical products, is banking on robotics to trim time needed for tax invoice issuance by 75 per cent. The Zhejiang province-based company needs to issue more than 5,000 value-added-tax invoices to more than 600 clients nationwide monthly.

A human needs 20 minutes to issue each invoice, which entails information collection, verification and recording. However, the same work can be done in five minutes by a robot, according to Deloitte, the robot supplier.

“A robot can be at least 15 times faster than a human being and ranks as a ‘super employee’ by working around-the-clock all week,” said Joseph Chu, Deloitte China’s chief digital officer.

Delixi is among a growing number of business that use robotic process automation (RPA), a form of clerical process automation technology to trim operational costs and improve efficiency.

In addition to Deloitte, the other remaining big-four accounting firms – including EY, KPMG and PwC – have introduced the technology-driven services in China to businesses ranging from banking, technology, and consumer services.

“Businesses are widely embracing the RPA services as it has become the hottest topic in the latest technology application in tax management in China,” said Patricia Xia, EY Greater China digital tax leader.

In another case, KPMG has provided financial automation services at an international bank. It freed up manpower by 22 per cent at the bank’s trade finance department, while it improved manpower efficiency by 18 per cent at its commodities department, according to KPMG.

KPMG, also a user of process automation, is poised to offer similar tax and human resources robots in China.

“Though most robots are still at the initial stage of offering basic data collection and processing, we’ve also moved on to the second stage of big data analysis with decision-making intelligence,” said Zhang Longhua, partner and head of technology enablement, KPMG China.

Robots will also create new jobs for specialists to teach and maintain machines, resulting in accountants and tax professionals moving up the value chain to offer more high-end services, he said.

“The use of a more intelligent machine with analysis capabilities is likely to occur in the next three to five years,” he said. “We expect this will evolve into a digital labour force that is capable of potentially replacing human beings.”

EY’s Xia noted that robots might not replace humans entirely as decision-making and transformation management still need human intelligence and intervention.