By Darren Cran, chief operating officer of AccountsIQ
The finance function is often taken for granted in an organisation, with teams typically seen as back-office support, churning out reports and ensuring compliance with highly complex regulations. Not dissimilar to a referee in football, if nobody is talking about the finance function, they’re probably doing a good job.
Whilst the chief financial officer contributes significantly to business decisions, the rest of the finance team can feel stigmatised as admin-based toilers without much opportunity for decision-making input. But with the right tools, they can provide invaluable insights and data.
Resentment among finance professionals was evident in a survey conducted by AccountsIQ in 2023. More than three-quarters of the 500 surveyed said they believe their organisation sees them as just a support function. Moreover, 88% of professionals and even more of their younger counterparts (94%) said they feel undervalued. Too often, they are not being given the opportunity to provide the kind of strategic analysis and insight of which they are capable, with the right tools and opportunities.
Despite their ambitions, the reality for many finance professionals is that they are burdened with routine data aggregation and reporting tasks, many still conducted on spreadsheets. More tech-savvy accountancy and finance professionals see how the many advances in software and automation could be leveraged to automate these time-consuming tasks so they can contribute to better decision-making at all levels of the business they work for. They want to use financial data and analytics to elevate their role and answer the increasing demands from other department heads and the board. And quite rightly, they want to further their own careers as business leaders.
But one of the main barriers remains technology. Spreadsheet-based methods for certain tasks such as data collection are slow and prone to errors, which undermine confidence in any analysis a team provides. Almost every respondent in the research (96%) said their team makes errors.
Of course, many organisations have invested in different software solutions, many on-premises and with high levels of functionality, but still there is one fundamental problem. Many of these solutions are unable to interoperate meaningfully with other systems in their business, lacking any possibility of integration, streamlining or automation in financial management. Lack of integration prevents finance professionals from gaining fast and easy access to data from right across the business. The perennial problem of siloed data means they must rely on their colleagues to help them out, resulting in low accuracy and slow processes.
The many integrations possible in financial management
Finance professionals need their financial management software to integrate with everything from solutions designed specifically for hospitality management, to CRM systems, education-specific administration systems, open banking platforms and international payments systems. But unless organisations have cloud-based financial management software with open APIs, they will remain unable to achieve the necessary integrations, resulting in major in-efficiencies in areas such as expense management, payroll and inventory management.
Payroll and HR integration, for example, gives organisations the ability to provide the finance function with seamless access to details such as employee work hours, leave records and salaries. This streamlines payroll management tasks and reduces errors that frustrate employees and cause an irritating amount of work in corrections.
For inventory management, integrations provide the finance function with accurate cost-of-goods-sold calculations and automated purchase-to-pay processes, streamlining a procurement cycle from order to payment in an industry such as hospitality.
Finance professionals are highly skilled individuals who want to provide greater value and insight to senior decision-makers.
The absence of such integrations severely inhibits any ability of the finance team to use advanced analytics, AI or technology, like optical character recognition technology (OCR) to accelerate financial management processes and increase accuracy by many factors. OCR will remove the need for manual entry of invoices. If they lack integration, organisations cannot take advantage of analytics to provide business intelligence.
An integrated technology stack means information flows between systems, enabling more precise cash flow forecasting. It opens the door to automation. And will deliver more dependable management reporting and budgeting that never misses deadlines.
But if an organisation has a jumble of different solutions that cannot exchange data with the financial management system, then these efficiency advances are much harder to come by. In an increasingly integrated world, it is remiss for companies to leave their finance teams out in the cold operating with disparate technologies and manual methods.
Finance professionals are highly skilled individuals who want to provide greater value and insight to senior decision-makers. Younger staff are tech-savvy and unlikely to linger in a company that sticks with time-consuming ad hoc solutions that make life unnecessarily hard and stand in the way of career advancement. It’s time for organisations to simplify financial management and put greater data power in the hands of the finance function.