September 30, 2020

Finance Shared Services: Pros and Cons

Finance Leadership
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The idea of finance shared services isn’t novel, but improved technologies are creating a new way for them to reach maximum efficiency levels. Finance shared services started to become popular in the 1990s as businesses used them as a way to achieve economies of scale by centralising shared services. Such shared service centres (SSC) are well-designed to manage accounting processes in offshore locations or centralised away from disparate business units to lower costs. 

About 80% of the Fortune 500 companies take part in a shared service model for one or many of their operations. Even so, SSCs haven’t yet reached absolute perfection, but with the aid of automation tools, they are continuously proving their value and saving businesses time and money. 

What is Shared Services?

A shared service centre is a centralised location for shared services that happen within an organisation. The SSC can be responsible for handling specific tasks, such as accounting, human resources, payroll, IT, legal, security or purchasing, to name a few. 

The SSC serves the business unit with its specialised service to cut overall costs and create a higher degree of strategic flexibility. Although it sounds similar to dividing an organisation by department, a shared service centre is different because it has measurable outputs and is in control of services for entire organisations. Their outcomes are both qualitatively and quantitatively assessed. 

Many benefits of setting up a shared service centre, particularly in Finance, overlap with the benefits of financial automation tools. That’s why automation tools should be part of every financial shared service centre because both are meant to offer: reduced costs, centralised services, standardised processes, measurable outcomes and easy deployment. 

Statistics: SSC by the Numbers

Every business has different goals and operational tactics. But, overwhelming the statistics behind organisations leverage Share Service Centers in finance. Let’s have a look at some key findings from a benchmarking study designed by ScottMadden across four business cycles from 2014 to 2018:

Processes in scope: 77% of SSCs report to the business’ finance executive 

Process outsourcing: Before outsourcing processes, most organisation’s are first looking to automation as a finance solution. However, here’s a look at how they are outsourcing top processes: 

  • 39% expense reimbursement
  • 35% collections
  • 26% general accounting
  • 18% accounts receivable
  • 15% of accounts payable 

Process centralisation: The most centralised processes tend to be those that are iterative and repetitive (transactional), rather than those that demand high-level analytical thinking. For example, in order of the most globally centralised processes, the list looks like this:

  • Process accounts payable: 43%
  • Perform general accounting: 40%
  • Process accounts receivable: 39%
  • Perform financial reporting: 36%
  • Process expense reimbursement: 25%
  • Process taxes: 23%
  • Perform budgeting, forecasting and planning: 26%


Benefits of Shared Services

Many businesses have realised the benefit of using financial shared services because the workflow is similar between business units. Since financial processes adhere to compliance and regulations, it is something that can and should be standardised in its approach. 

Furthermore, with the utilisation of automation tools, finance shared services can still deliver the impactful insights from deep data analytics that supports decision-making. These big business decisions often come from financial executives within the central business unit. 

So, SSCs and automation tools support financial business leaders by offering a multitude of benefits, including:

  • Increased efficiency: Your business will be able to get the most out of investment in technology, have a retained sense of control and decrease labour costs. 
  • Increased effectiveness: You will be able to leverage specialist skills, boost decision support, warehouse data efficiently, and improve the controlled environment. 
  • Standardisation: Finance processes should be standardised across the board and with SSC and automation, you can strengthen your application management and set best practices. From managing data to reporting insights, each process will follow the same pre-defined path from beginning to end. 
  • Control: You can rest assured knowing that there are oversight and management of SSC finance services and that the outcomes are all measurable with data and analytics. Your ROI is easily calculated by comparing previous data and industry benchmarks to your own KPIs.
  • Decreased costs: Instead of having big accounting departments across all of your organisations, the financial processes will take place in one centralised location with a dedicated team to oversee all aspects. 

Shared Service Challenges

With shared services comes the ever-important task of finding the right technology to leverage for communication and processing. Shared service centres in finance are not always going to operate at maximum efficiency from the get-go. It takes time and effort to set up processes that work for business leaders and the SSC. 

As such, a rushed approach can create errors and flaws (but, we will show you how automation tools can solve all of them). Some significant challenges of SSCs include: 

  • Control risk: When you consolidate multiple accounting groups into one consolidated central unit, there is a risk of losing control. If something goes wrong, you will now affect the business across the board and not just within one department. 
  • Risk of error: Like the control risk, the risk of error grows with the amount of work that an SSC must perform. The consolidated unit is not in control of more data. 
  • Visibility: Regardless of where your SSC is located (onshore or offshore), your executive team will surely want access into what’s happening at any given point in time because financial data is used to make every business decision promptly. 
  • Performance improvement: If processes aren’t being measured, they aren’t being managed. There could be a situation where process improvement is needed, but you’ll need access to data points and analytical trends to know that. 

Technology as a Solution - Data Automation Tools

All of the challenges listed above could be cause for worry or even could lead to a business opting out of using SSC. However, data automation tools inherently resolve every risk mentioned. With a data automation tool like SolveXia, your SSC can manage all accounting and financial services without every sacrificing your oversight and access to information.

As a financial leader, you want to know where your business stands, and by using a cloud automation solution, you can access reports and dashboards in real-time, no matter where the services are being performed. Additionally, tasks are automated, and mass amounts of data can be securely stored so that processes take place in a timely and error-free manner. You have clear visibility into your business’ financial health and can offer the same to any stakeholder within your company with defined access controls. 


Achieving Best in Class Status Finance Shared Services

To make the absolute most of finance shared service, your automation tool is a key player. The technology you choose to leverage should take care of two primary needs, namely:  

  • Process automation: Rather than just automating tasks, you’ll want to automate entire processes. Automating processes reduces bottlenecks, increases an organisation’s speed and agility and decreases manual errors. 
  • Precise measurement: To know where your shared services stand, automation tools can compare past performance to themselves in the past or to the competition in the market. This analysis and comparison can serve as a benchmark to understand where continuous process improvement may be necessary. 

The Future is Technology

The future is here, and it lies in technological advancement like automation solutions. Across businesses, tools that perform robotic process automation and data automation have given rise to more analytical decision-making. 

Not only does robotic process automation perform repetitive and monotonous tasks so that humans don’t have to, but it also leads to machine learning. This allows for the resolution and remediation of problems before they happen, and the tool does so itself through its understanding of patterns from big data. Every small problem that gets resolved before it happens can lead to significant cost savings. 

When you can leverage all your data in a centralised software solution, then you can gain more in-depth and more timely insights. These tools process data and transform it into information you can visualise in the form of customisable reports. 

In this way, it doesn’t matter if your financial processes are happening across the globe because you’ll have all the information you need at the click of a button to make informed decisions that better your business. The power of Finance Share Services and automation tools are inherently linked in an increasingly data-rich business world.

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