It’s a brave new world out there - and not always an easy one to navigate. As companies tackle everything from regulatory upheavals to natural disasters and the occasional ship stuck in a canal, agility is essential. But without accurate, intelligent accounting, agility is just a leap in the dark.
Senior teams must be able to make decisions backed up by clean, actionable financial insights. What did last month look like? How sure can we be that those trends will continue - or end? Can we sign off on the budgets that let our frontline teams get the job done? These questions all need answering at speed and with a high degree of accuracy. And amongst it all, the company’s financial records also need to satisfy regulators and auditors - preferably without weeks of digging around for lost receipts.
All of this means that the financial director’s role has shifted massively in the last decade or so. The rise of automation and AI mean that beyond just crunching numbers - which is still the essential foundation of excellent accounting - finance teams are now increasingly being called upon to extract strategically valuable insights from those numbers. Simply polishing a beautiful spreadsheet is no longer enough. In the 2020s, you need to be able to explain what all those numbers mean for the business, and what steps senior leaders should take as a result.
Unsurprisingly, for many finance leaders, that might sound easier said than done. To fulfill this new role, they need good data and the time in which to analyze it. If they have to spend their days chasing up missing information, hosting status update meetings and manually cleaning up month-end numbers, they’re unlikely to have much time left for strategic projects. Not to mention the fact that if the accounting process feels disconnected and piecemeal, it’s hard to stake your reputation on recommendations from last month’s numbers. Who knows what might turn up in a drawer to throw your calculations off two weeks from now?
Automation enables accuracy at speed
Clearly, if accounting leaders are to step into this evolved, strategic role, they need the right tools for the job. Accounting software capable of automating tactical responsibilities is fundamental in this new world, helping accounting teams deliver faster, better-connected work, which then help drive excellence across the whole organization.
Day-to-day operations can be improved by automating recurring tasks, checklists, notifications and capture of documentation and evidence, giving teams greater control over and trust in the figures at month and year-end. Automation can also help streamline upstream operations like accounts payable, receivables, and tax, and thus improve the efficiency of downstream operations like compliance, financial planning, and reporting. When these basic facets of the job are taken care of to a high degree of accuracy, accountants get time back. Time which they can invest in more strategic work.
All for one, one for all
That’s good news for the accounting team, freeing them from constant stress and helping them get home on time with the knowledge of a job well done. But it’s also good news for the organization as a whole. Better information sharing in accounting drives value for all departments. When accountants have a clear view of what’s going on, so does everyone else - and that leads to smoother decision-making, better planning, and more effective responses to unexpected challenges.
For the CEO and COO responding to the real-time impact of unpredictable Covid measures, for example, knowing they’ll have rich, data-driven accounting insights on time, every month makes the difference between guesswork and effective strategy. Or when the compliance team is getting ready to face the auditors, it’s essential they know that every transaction, every approval, and every authorization are tracked in the same way, 24/7. The less they have to dig through digital files (or physical filing cabinets) to find elusive expense forms, the better for them. Less time wasted on fixing mistakes means more time given to the strategic work that really drives the company forward.
Whether strategic or operational, the combined benefit of these streamlined tasks - all powered by automated accounting - can be massive, both in terms of costs saved and business won.
We open at the close
One area of accounting in particular is essential for improved strategic value from the finance department: the month-end close.
A timely, accurate month-end is essential for good decision-making, intelligent strategy, and a smooth-running business, with ramifications for every part of the company. If team leaders have to wait an unpredictable amount of time for the numbers, or worry about whether to trust figures that have a tendency to change after the fact, the knock-on effects are felt across the organization. A trustworthy close means everyone has access to accurate information, giving the whole organization the best chance of success.
Again, the right technology is essential to achieve a smooth, speedy, and accurate close. When the close team can easily access all the information they need, all in one place and in a standardized format, and when they can quickly share notes and update checklists in a central location, they’ll be able to complete the work faster, without worrying that some key bit of information has slipped through the cracks.
For businesses looking for that extra strategic edge, the close is only the beginning. When accountants are backed up by accurate, user-friendly software and expert support, they can have the confidence and time to provide truly valuable financial information that empowers business teams to respond with agility, no matter what the world throws at them.
One last word to the wise - if you’re looking to build a more strategic, insightful accounting department, it’s essential that the technology on which you build it has accounting DNA. That’s to say, if it’s built, maintained, and supported by experts who understand the practical pain points of accounting first-hand, you stand the best chance of success without having to get through a difficult bedding-in process first. Accounting is a complex process to the uninitiated, and only accountants truly understand the challenges teams face each month-end and beyond.
When financial leaders invest in tech that’s made by accountants, for accountants, they’re more likely to reduce friction, bypass common bottlenecks, and deliver more value for their organizations. And whether you’re facing Brexit, Covid, or the Ever Given - that’s the real mark of success.
Adam Zoucha, EMEA MD, FloQast