Finance Leadership
August 7, 2019

Less spreadsheets. More communication. The new age of the finance department.

Finance leaders would like staff to spend only 3% of their day creating and updating reports. In reality, they spend almost half of their time completing reporting tasks. The role of the CFO and finance department is changing. Now, more than ever, staff must focus on reducing the time they spend on manual data processing. By doing so, finance can focus on communicating analysis and insights to the business.

Digital transformation, through automation, promises to unshackle finance from their manual data tasks. To succeed with automation, finance teams must be willing to overcome:

  • An existing team culture that makes it difficult to automate; and
  • Resistance to change; and
  • The shortage of digital skills

In this post, we will discuss how finance can overcome each of the challenges above.

The impact of manual reporting on finance

Research suggests that companies lose $140 billion dollars each year to disconnected data. Around 76% of organisations say that their data is often trapped in legacy systems. This has a direct impact on finance staff who need to combine data for reporting.

Based on FTE benchmarks, a company with $1b+ in revenue employs 35 people to create and update reports. In Australia, that equates to around $5 - 7m dollars a year!

As a result, finance spends only a small fraction of their time communicating insights to the business. With CEOs now demanding more analysis and insights from their CFO, things need to change.

Digital transformation and automation is the answer

To unshackle themselves from the burden of creating reports, finance must automate. By doing so, CFOs will be able to find resources to focus on communicating insights to the business.

For example, say a large company ($1b+ revenue) automates half of their reporting. That equates to adding 17 FTEs of resource to finance. This new found capacity can then be set to the task of analysis and insights generation.

Automation should be front of mind for all finance leaders. Surprisingly though, only 13% of CFOs have started using automation technologies. While there are significant gains to be had for the finance teams that do automate, there are first some key challenges that must be overcome.

Challenge 1: Team culture

The traditional role of the CFO and finance was one of financial stewardship. But things are different now. 85% of CEOs believe their finance teams ability to analyse data is the surest way to growth. The top performing companies spend 20% more time on analysis (vs gathering data).

A culture based on traditionalist thinking will be the Achillies heel of your automation agenda. Finance staff need to:

  1. Challenge the status quo and business-as-usual protocols.
  2. Prioritise their time on adding value to the business units they are working with.
  3. Share a passion for efficiency, focusing on insight generation and continuous improvement.
  4. Follow the 80/20 rule and avoid getting caught up on the pursuit of "perfection"
  5. Embrace change and the opportunity to learn new skills and technologies.

This can come as a bit of a culture shock to finance teams that have been playing a more traditional role. Change management will help with this.

Challenge 2: Change management

As already mentioned, automation will reshape the culture of your finance organisation. The old finance team:

  • Produces reports and manages risks and compliance
  • Are Excel gurus
  • Use the tools that the IT department gives them
  • "Do" their processes
  • Spend most of their time gathering and preparing data

The new finance team:

  • Helps drive business strategy for the future
  • Is made up of data gurus using new technologies
  • Creates their own systemised solutions
  • "Manage" their processes
  • Spend most of their time on analysis and communication

Ignoring the discomfort that this type of change will bring is not advisable. You may find that staff are "too buys to automate" or are likely to use any hurdles in the automation journey as a reason to retreat back to manual reporting.

Finance leaders must educate their staff on how automation will improve their work. They need to find and support champions who will promote automation. They must prepare a response plan for when the automation produces an error. Finally, they need to capture and share success stories to help build trust and credibility.

Companies also need to invest in the digital skills necessary to automate.

Challenge 3: Digital Skills

According to Deloitte, many companies lack the skills to automate. Most finance teams have well-developed skills in areas such as:

  • Finance and accounting expertise
  • Procedural tasks
  • Excel
  • Core systems like SAP, Hyperion, etc.

Finance teams must now equip themselves with new skills for automation. These include:

  1. Agile project delivery
  2. Data literacy
  3. Solution building
  4. Business partnering
  5. Digital citizenary

You can learn more about these skills and download a free digital skills matrix here.

It is important to note that people with these skills most likely exist in your company. We often encounter staff within finance teams who have the five skills listed above.

Conclusion

It is clear that finance is spending far too much time preparing reports. To meet their CEOs expectations, CFOs need to embrace automation.

Finance teams that do automate can unlock significant benefits. In particular, they will create resource capacity to focus on analysis and communication. To achieve this, finance leaders must:

  • Instigate cultural change to one that is more conducive for automation; and
  • Either find or train existing staff with the digital skills needed to automate.

If you would like to learn more about the challenges and solutions for CFOs wanting to automate, download our free whitepaper.

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