Drive Growth Through Innovation in Your Finance Department

Cognitive surplus has been recently proven to be a gold mine for a collection of different departments. Don’t you think it’s about time you learnt to benefit from this within your finance department as well?

Go beyond the apparent and obvious
All of the typical financial processes that most companies will utilise to drive growth are fairly obvious these include: cutting into the bottom line, maximizing revenues at the top line, and calculating the return on investment (ROI) for any new investment opportunities.

But if you can make ‘innovation time’, in conjunction with financial analysis, you will find that you are given a chance to look at less traditional levers to drive growth within your department.

Not a very exciting task
Ensuring that you are given real time away from the stress of daily tasks will eventually prove to be an invaluable exercise. Real time allows you and your department time to reflect and allow you analyse the performance of your finance department within the past versus the demands, your deliveries and performance of today. By reaching into and exploring your cognitive surplus, you and your colleagues could discover areas that are limiting, and which could limit your financial performance tomorrow. By taken a look at these limits you and your department can explore alternative solutions to help drive growth and increase the overall innovation of your company.

With your financial performance analysis in situ and a collection of innovative ideas in hand you’ll be able to better forecast and set up departmental budgets, whilst providing a firm foundation from which you are able to review any innovative concepts to vary the business structure serving to help alter the performance/cost ratio in a positive direction.

Want a push towards the right direction
Want a sensible push towards the right direction, which will help you greatly improve the performance of your finance department?

You probably have an identical gut feeling that was brought to our consciousness by an accounting survey of the financial close process: only 28 % finance employees trust the reported numbers within the month end financial close making historical account analysis an even more arduous task.

Financial Reconciliation software can make the whole financial close process quicker and more economical by the complete integration of automatic account reconciliation with automated approval workflows. With the utilization of summary dashboards, account reconciliation software makes strict compliance the quality standard for your team, whilst at the same time executives are often accurately kept within the loop with drill-down reports at the press of a button.

You can conjointly do away with binders and build your historical analysis faster and easier with a completely digital archive. Although storing all monthly close reports in binders may provide that old-fashioned feel of security, however that feeling can be misleading. Using binders to archive can in the long run prove more of a hindrance than a help. Problems that can arise are:
Which binder is all the information archived in? This issue can further be compounded with the problem of physical space required to store all of your company binders.

Where in the binder is it? Generally binders over time become too hefty to go through. So whether you’re working with binders or spreadsheets maintaining that control and overview are a top priority. At any moment, you need to have all documentation in place and to understand the status of every person and every task. Financial Reconciliation software can help you to streamline and digitize your monthly financial close process. Whilst allowing you to replace cumbersome spreadsheets and full binders with an up-to-date real-time overview of the entire balance sheet reconciliation process.

Taking all of the above into account what’s more, due to all of these efficiencies financial reconciliation software will actually help you facilitate to make ‘innovation time’ within the financial department, serving to create a virtuous cycle of enhancements and innovations with in your department.

With all of these helpful features and more it isn’t hard to ascertain how using financial reconciliation software will greatly utilise your cognitive surplus and help streamline your finance department helping your business grow.

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How to Evaluate Your Finance Department

Nobody knows your business better than you do. After all, you are the CEO. You know what the engineers do; you know what the production managers do; and nobody understands the sales process better than you. You know who is carrying their weight and who isn’t. That is, unless we’re talking about the finance and accounting managers.

Most CEO’s, especially in small and mid-size enterprises, come from operational or sales backgrounds. They have often gained some knowledge of finance and accounting through their careers, but only to the extent necessary. But as the CEO, they must make judgments about the performance and competence of the accountants as well as the operations and sales managers.

So, how does the diligent CEO evaluate the finance and accounting functions in his company? All too often, the CEO assigns a qualitative value based on the quantitative message. In other words, if the Controller delivers a positive, upbeat financial report, the CEO will have positive feelings toward the Controller. And if the Controller delivers a bleak message, the CEO will have a negative reaction to the person. Unfortunately, “shooting the messenger” is not at all uncommon.

The dangers inherent in this approach should be obvious. The Controller (or CFO, bookkeeper, whoever) may realize that in order to protect their career, they need to make the numbers look better than they really are, or they need to draw attention away from negative matters and focus on positive matters. This raises the probability that important issues won’t get the attention they deserve. It also raises the probability that good people will be lost for the wrong reasons.

The CEO’s of large public companies have a big advantage when it comes to evaluating the performance of the finance department. They have the audit committee of the board of directors, the auditors, the SEC, Wall Street analyst and public shareholders giving them feedback. In smaller businesses, however, CEO’s need to develop their own methods and processes for evaluating the performance of their financial managers.

Here are a few suggestions for the small business CEO:

Timely and Accurate Financial Reports

Chances are that at some point in your career, you have been advised that you should insist on “timely and accurate” financial reports from your accounting group. Unfortunately, you are probably a very good judge of what is timely, but you may not be nearly as good a judge of what is accurate. Certainly, you don’t have the time to test the recording of transactions and to verify the accuracy of reports, but there are some things that you can and should do.

Insist that financial reports include comparisons over a number of periods. This will allow you to judge the consistency of recording and reporting transactions.
Make sure that all anomalies are explained.
Recurring expenses such as rents and utilities should be reported in the appropriate period. An explanation that – “there are two rents in April because we paid May early” – is unacceptable. The May rent should be reported as a May expense.
Occasionally, ask to be reminded about the company’s policies for recording revenues, capitalizing costs, etc.

Beyond Monthly Financial Reports

You should expect to get information from your accounting and finance groups on a daily basis, not just when monthly financial reports are due. Some good examples are:

Daily cash balance reports.
Accounts receivable collection updates.
Cash flow forecasts (cash requirements)
Significant or unusual transactions.

Consistent Work Habits

We’ve all known people who took it easy for weeks, then pulled an all-nighter to meet a deadline. Such inconsistent work habits are strong indicators that the individual is not attentive to processes. It also sharply raises the probability of errors in the frantic last-minute activities.

Willingness to Be Controversial

As the CEO, you need to make it very clear to the finance/accounting managers that you expect frank and honest information and that they will not be victims of “shoot the messenger” thinking. Once that assurance is given, your financial managers should be an integral part of your company’s management team. They should not be reluctant to express their opinions and concerns to you or to other department leaders.

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Learn How Your Finance Department Can Inspire Growth

Almost all departments within all companies have an untapped ‘cognitive surplus’. A ‘cognitive surplus’ is the difference between the specific tasks an employee is assigned to do and what they actually are capable of doing – the actual versus the potential work.

It seems obvious, but to tap into it the ‘Cognitive Surplus’ can make a huge difference.

Companies such as 3M, Dell and Google have all implemented what is called ’20% time’ or ‘innovation time’ – one day of their working week, dedicated to whatever projects they like… provided it benefits the company in some way.

Does it pay off?

One might wonder: Does it pay off? Well, at Google this has resulted in successful projects such as Gmail, Google News and AdSense, and according to ex-employee, Marissa Mayer, as many as half of Google innovations are a result of ’20% time’.

But, while this approach might be considered something market leaders can utilise, many finance departments perceive they barely have the time to complete all the necessary work at present, never mind crafting new and innovative ideas, supporting procedures that aid business growth.

Yet finance departments really do need this ‘innovation time’.

In this slow and sometimes contracting economy, the next two years will be critical for businesses. It will fall largely on finance departments to walk the thin line between productive spending and managing a dwindling pool of resources. Additionally, with a host of new financial regulations coming into place in this two-year period, financial departments will be instrumental in helping businesses to remain compliant without losing their current standing.

This extra pressure and workload will make it difficult for finance to inspire new talent whilst holding on to the employees they already have. Finance professionals require stimulating challenges without being overloaded with extra work – they need ’20% time’ to effectively tap-in to their expertise, and not have their time consumed by lengthy, repetitive tasks – that can be automated.

How to make time for tapping into ‘Cognitive Surplus’ in the finance department

One way in which businesses can help free up some of their finance department’s time to complete tasks, is by automating the tedious and time-consuming tasks that turn prospective talent off finance work. Reconciliation is one such set of tasks that finance professionals find particularly tiresome and time consuming. Fortunately it is now possible to automate account reconciliation, processing hundreds of thousands of transactions in just minutes rather than hours or potentially days.

While significantly reducing reconciliation errors, automation also frees up large chunks of time that could be dedicated to maintaining compliance, providing strategic insight in this tough economy.

This additional time could even become the rarely considered ‘innovation time’ your business needs to inspire growth and stay competitive.

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