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Why businesses should be encouraging more technology fellowship in finance

Samwise Gamgee is the real hero of Lord of the Rings.

There, I said it.

So why does he get none of the glory? He has to deal with Frodo’s whining, keep him in check and carry him. Literally. We get so distracted by Frodo as the ringbearer that we forget Sam’s value on their quest.

Can you think of any teams in your company that might get forgotten or fail to get any glory? I’ll give you a hint; they make sure you get paid each month.

In big businesses, the natural inclination is to focus on its core product or service. Of course, this is entirely warranted – after all, they act as the engine of revenue and business growth.  Such is their importance that the teams that deliver these offerings to market – sales, marketing, engineering and design are often heralded for the work they carry out.

For instance, the sales teams get commissions and have the help of CRM systems, marketing get recognition and the helping hand from Radian6 and engineering and design get credit for a well-designed and functioning product with the aid of useful technology tools like CAD and MATLAB. However, finance teams are not always recognised for the work they do and often don’t have useful tools at their disposal to assist with some of the heavy lifting.

Working behind the scenes, they are unlikely to discuss how they filed their invoices on time or how they are busy chasing payments like a sales person might mention a big deal they just closed.

But, it’s important for businesses to remember how critical finance teams are to a firm. As the company’s foundation, the whole organisation could quickly fall apart without them. Despite this importance, finance teams are often taken for granted, much like Sam. And find themselves getting bogged down by processes that stop them from performing effectively.

It’s a sentiment that was backed up by a survey of 500 senior finance leaders across 300 SMBs and 200 large enterprises in the UK, commissioned by Concur and carried out by Vanson Bourne. The results painted a clear picture – one of increasing pressure, a yearning to implement automation and a desire for less admin.

Luckily, instead of living in Middle-earth, we live in an age of technology and an era where manual processes are increasingly becoming automated. This frees up time and resources and allows people to knuckle down with the interesting and more strategic parts of the job.

And of course, technology can only work effectively as long there’s someone monitoring and using the data in clever ways – showing the need for both bot and body.

We’re important, but….

Finance teams know they are important. Ninety-six per cent of respondents said their team played an important role in influencing business strategy, while 84 per cent said their role had become more important in the last five to ten years.

Despite this feeling of importance, there is an underlying frustration that finance teams can’t perform to the best of their ability due to one underlying factor: admin.

According to respondents, 18 per cent of their team’s weekly time was spent on general admin tasks, compared to just eight per cent on providing strategic insights to their rest of their business. This meant that less time was spent focusing on important issues, such as internal and external compliance.

Spending such a large amount of time on admin processes has led to a feeling of despondency, with 64 per cent of respondents admitting to a feeling of disconnect between the important tasks they need to carry out and what is taking up the majority of their time. Furthermore, while three-quarters say they believed other departments underestimate the value of their work.

The pain of processes

In short, finance teams feel they could be doing better but are being held back. Much of the reason for this is complex processes – these are hindering finance teams from working more effectively and if automated could improve their job functions considerably.  

Forty-six per cent of respondents said their department didn’t have a large amount of freedom to implement efficiency solutions as they see fit. This is despite many saying the ability to execute new technology had improved over the last ten years, enabling them to focus more time on getting a better view of cash flow, becoming more productive and optimising other processes in the business.

A classic example of this are the two banes of many a finance team – the expense and accounts payable. In this survey, 38 per cent of businesses describe their expense process and 32 per cent their accounts payable process as mostly or entirely manual. Only 35 per cent have automated more than three-quarters of their expense process, with the number rising to 39 per cent of accounts payable and receivable. 

Such statistics show just how many finance teams are left to take on manual tasks. In many cases, this department, the unsung heroes, who provide one of the most critical services to any organisation need three things. More support, more freedom and more implemented technology to improve the way they work.

Yes, they may not be the driving force that is sales or possess the innovation of the engineering team. But they are critical. Just how Sam was critical to Frodo’s success on their mission, without the support of finance teams there would be no revenue, profit, expenses, invoices or pay cheques.

And without these and the right technology, there is no business.

Chris Baker, UK managing director enterprise, Concur
Image Credit: Investment Zen / Flickr