As a CFO, Financial Controller or another senior Finance executive, you are undoubtedly facing new challenges that are emerging every day as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of these challenges that will impact you and your team members will be personal, including the need to take care of children, concerns about supplies and health worries. Some businesses have been and will be severely impacted, including those in the travel, entertainment, hospitality and retail industries. These businesses are fighting to survive and, will hopefully do so with the support of the government, their suppliers and banks.
Finance leaders in many other organisations will have other issues to deal with. Staff may need to care for children if schools are closed or they may fall ill. They will also need to deal with the challenges related to working from home and cannot just pop over to someone’s desk to get a question answered or have a problem resolved. Aside from addressing business-as-usual tasks such as performing reconciliations, making payments and providing reports, there may be additional demands for more frequent reporting or processing due to the fast-moving nature of the crisis.
All of this means that it is not a good time to find out the hard way that all of the knowledge relating to key Finance processes resides with one, two or three staff members! This key person dependency needs to be addressed quickly while most people are available to do so. There are two ways to do this:
Your team may already have documented many of the processes they perform. If so, now is the time to (figuratively) dust off those documents and get someone who does not normally do the work to check if they can redo each process for a chosen time period using only the documentation provided. Compare the results or outputs of the process with those produced by the person who normally performs it. The person performing the test should ask the following questions: Are they the results the same? Are there any gaps in the documentation? Does it need updating? Is the documentation accessible to all people who may need to step in? Can they access all of the reports, emails and files needed to perform the process when working from home? The documentation and access rights will need to be amended accordingly.
Automate the frequently performed processes (quickly).
This goes a step further than the option above. It further reduces the dependency on staff to undertake the mechanical aspects of Finance tasks. It also means that the tasks can be done much more quickly (typically 10x faster or more). Aside from reducing the dependency on the staff members who would otherwise need to do it manually, it frees up people focus on tasks that are currently more important, including personal ones.
Other benefits of automating Finance and other manual, spreadsheet-based processes include:
Data can be sourced automatically through the use of APIs (connectors), Secure FTP connections and automatic loading of attachments from emails.
Through the use of a self-documenting automation tool, the task will have always-up-to-date documentation.
The ability to perform processes much more frequently thereby providing much more up-to-date information to management at a time when speed and accurate information is vital.
The creation of an efficient Finance function that is well positioned to move quickly when the crisis is over and there is a need for the business to catch up on lost ground.
Many companies that offer Finance automation tools (including SolveXia) offer free online access to and training on these tools. When selecting the appropriate tool, Finance leaders should opt for a tool that is easy to use (i.e. does not require programming knowledge or macros) and works with the tools (such as Excel) that Finance staff are familiar with. It should work with existing files, spreadsheets and outputs that the Finance team uses in their current manual processes to minimise disruption and maximise ease of use.
The choice on whether to document or automate a process will vary by process and will depend on:
To keep key Finance processes* operating properly over the coming weeks and months of the COVID-19 crisis, Finance leaders need to assess which of their processes are key to the health of their business and assign staff to institute one of the two approaches outlined above for each of these key processes.
Where automation is the desired option, consider which tool is right for your Finance team. It must be highly secure, easy to use, minimise the need for change and be supported by a team that can automate the processes for your staff or train them quickly on how to do this themselves. It should not require a substantial dependency on the company’s IT team so as to enable the Finance staff to remain as self-sufficient as possible.
* Key Finance processes typically include the production of management and regulatory reports, reconciliations, issuance of invoices, processing of payments (and approvals to make these payments), reinsurance premium payments and claims, rebate calculations, sales reports, etc.