Month-end is a stressful and dreaded time for many accountants and financial analysts. With accounts to close and reconcile, financial statements to formulate and analyse, closing the books and getting the financial data ready to present to the business, board members and executives is a time-consuming task that, if not managed correctly, can be extremely costly to a business. One organisation experiencing this monthly headache was The County of Berks, assembled of a complex and large network of finance departments whose disparity between branches was causing the month-end process to be stressful and frustrating.
Financial reports detailing the current, historical and projected financial performance of the business usually cause headaches for financial analysts who are often left with frustrating last-minute number changes and manual processes to contend with, in order to get the reports prepared in time to meet deadlines. However, as Tiffany Newkirk, Financial Solutions Manager at SplashBI, explains, month-end reporting shouldn’t be such a manual and static process. The process should be seamless and as a result, time should be freed up for financial analysts to not only do what they love, but to do what their job should involve: financial analysis!
From manual to automated
Inputting numbers and financial data is time-consuming; even more so when numbers have to be added in or reallocated at the last minute which then means the entire process has to be repeated again. Not only does this process waste valuable time and money for organisations, but it can also leave staff extremely unmotivated and disengaged, knowing that processes and tasks will have to be replicated again and again each month, with no solution. Furthermore, manually inputting financial data leaves ample room for human error, resulting in inaccurate reports that have to be re-keyed, re-formatted and re-submitted. It’s an endless cycle that finance teams in organisations across the globe are extremely frustrated with.
After the County of Berks decided to take the leap and automate their financial reporting, one of the many key benefits they recognised was the simplicity of using a dashboard which functions seamlessly within the comfort of Excel. Replacing a number of products with one easy solution created enormous time and money savings, amounting to a substantial total of $343,000 saved in labour costs over a five-year period. Far from aiming to reduce the number of staff within their financial departments, the County of Berks’ main aim was to improve their financial systems and streamline these functions for the benefit of the employees.
Removing manual processes and introducing automation not only means that reporting can be far more accurate by using real-time data, but it also means that when last-minute changes undoubtedly need to be made, they will be done instantly, in the right format, removing the headache for the entire finance team. Adding in new projects also becomes seamless and onboarding new team members to the process becomes effortless. The County of Berks was extremely encouraged to see the positive uptake among employees of the new automated financial system because day-to-day reporting and understanding the financials was much easier than the solution they had previous experience of using. With reporting kept within Excel - a tool most users are familiar with - organisations can also remove the reluctance and struggle that often comes when implementing new software or tools. It’s natural for employees to push back on using a new tool that they may not feel comfortable with or that they may not have time to learn to use - but Excel offers the comfort that most time-poor employees crave.
Reporting with control
The key is in the detail - which is exactly what board members and senior executives will be looking for in financial reports at times when crucial ROI or budgeting decisions need to be made. Static, manually formatted reports don’t provide the level of detail required for decision-makers, and furthermore, it doesn’t give the financial analysts the information they need to provide answers to the critical questions they may be faced with. The team at County of Berks found the benefit of integrating real-time transactional data into their spreadsheets means that they can see exactly what’s going on at any given moment, enabling the team to make changes in an instant. With more time and greater confidence in the data being presented, financial analysts can fully analyse the data before it is presented, and therefore foresee any questions or issues that may arise and be prepared with answers or solutions, instilling greater control for all parties. And, by reporting on real-time data, finance teams will be able to answer questions at any time of the month, not just during month-end close.
Additionally, responsive and real-time reporting enables the format, structure or focus to be altered each month, following the outcome of board or executive meetings. For example, a new project brought in by the sales team may be critical to the success of future revenues and sales projections, so the report could be mirrored to measure this focus and to ensure the finance team is gathering sufficient data to report on its success.
Intelligent financial reporting
For a long time, financial analysts have been frustrated at the inability to do what they do best: financial analysis. Instead, their time has been taken up by manual processes involved in generating reports, which really should be automated, leaving room for errors and little confidence in the data being reported to the board and senior executives. Furthermore, at the County of Berks, the team have created straightforward tools for other departments within the organisation to complete their reconciliation process and have worked towards automating the process by putting the data in a simpler format to be as uncomplicated as possible. By using automated reports, it is possible to develop user-designed reports and give departments the ability to run or schedule them themselves.
Organisations of all sizes, and in all industries, need to reconsider their current exporting and formatting process for financial reporting and analysis and assess how it could become far more efficient. Automating reports helps to streamline business units to create a more cohesive finance function to promote efficiency and make processes simpler to complete financial tasks. By automating the process and introducing smart financial reporting, finance teams can do more than just build financial statements and instead remove the headache of month-end close time.
Tiffany Newkirk, Financial Solutions Manager, SplashBI