July 21, 2020

Delivering High-Performance Finance: Takeaways from the Agile Finance Summit

On July 16, Teampay hosted the first ever Agile Finance Summit in partnership with Avalara, FloQast, Tesorio, Tipalti, Justworks, and Upside Business Travel. The virtual event focused on the theme of finance agility, exploring the ways that finance teams can adapt and thrive in the face of change.

The summit kicked off with a keynote panel, followed by a series of 25-minute sessions that each zeroed in on a different aspect of finance operations. Speakers discussed everything from spend visibility and cash flow to tax compliance and remote communication. Throughout all the sessions, four key themes emerged.

1. Be proactive

While no one could anticipate the current health crisis, proactive finance teams were better able to adapt to the economic shift. “Many months before the pandemic, my company was looking for ways to enable remote and flexible work,” said Gabrielle Picard, Accounting Manager at Toast.

“I think the biggest thing that helped us prepare was to implement a lot of tools that allow for sources of truth in areas with a decentralized employee base,” she added. “We want to ensure that we’re putting out timely and accurate financials without everyone being in the office or working the same hours.”

Gary Gurevich, Controller at The Farmer’s Dog, echoed that sentiment. “We wanted to give our business unit leaders the confidence to execute, so we needed transparency and accountability,” he said. “We focused on mechanisms for staying in sync and making sure people know where they’re tracking and how they’re executing.”

Now, as the economy begins a slight recovery, companies are beginning to develop strategies  to prepare for future events while still allowing for some expansion. In fact, 59.6% of keynote attendees said they are gearing up for growth in the next 6 months.

“With cash flow forecasting, you need to know a few months to a year in advance how things are looking, so the decisions you make today will impact your future.” said Hunter Paletsas, CFO at GoDigital Media Group. Being proactive and strategically allocating capital will set you up for success, no matter what the future holds.

2. Invest in your people

“We often think of expenses as costs, but try positioning them as investments,” Scott Case, co-founder and CEO of Upside Business Travel, told attendees. “What are your top expenses, and how might you be able to enhance ROI?”

Participants overwhelmingly identified investments in their team as the way to go. As one respondent put it, “
Investing in people, with training, culture, and continual growth opportunities results in happier people who enjoy working at the company and further results in higher quality of product/service and higher profits.”

When it comes to investments in employees, many people think first and foremost about initiatives that foster a positive culture. Ashley Varney, HR specialist at PoliteMail, mentioned several projects that she was involved in, including sending employees care packages with office snacks, organizing a Zoom scavenger hunt, and meeting virtually with employees one-on-one to solicit feedback.

But stopping your team investments there is a mistake. “Employee empowerment starts with giving your staff the tools they need to streamline their processes,” said Juliana Anduckia, Customer Success Manager at Teampay. Your workforce is tasked with following finance processes every day, so finding ways to make the experience easy is a must.

This means making finance information accessible to all employees who need it. Embedding finance processes within existing workflows and proactively giving your workforce information will guarantee compliance, without slowing employees down.

3. Enable smarter decisions

“Everyone is a decision maker, and you can’t make great decisions if you don’t have the context and information you need,” said Temi Vasco, Controller at Gem. According to a recent report, over 80% of non-C-suite employees have a say in purchasing decisions, so it’s important to help them make good choices.

“There’s so much uncertainty around decision making at many companies,” said Peter Nesbitt, VP of Finance at Teampay. “Decisions get made in a vacuum without all the information, because a piece of data was stuck on someone’s computer somewhere.”

Temi highlighted real-time visibility as the answer to this challenge. “We had a manager who decided to push some spend into the next quarter because they saw that we were close to our burn rate. They didn’t even talk to finance before making that decision, but because they had that visibility, we were able to meet our targets. That was amazing.”

“Being agile is about providing business intelligence and analytics that can be responsive and adaptable in real time,” she added. “That means our financial information has to be timely, relevant to the person using it, and easily accessible.”

She highlighted the connection between transparency and alignment. “Real-time visibility is a wonderful way to get people aligned and involved in decision making. Then working with finance becomes a partnership, not a roadblock. We have an outcome that benefits both of us because we are part of that conversation on the front end.”

4. Adopt cloud-based technology

No matter the topic of their specific session, speakers across the board emphasized the importance of leveraging cloud-based financial technology to do their jobs. “We are a fully cloud-based accounting team,” said Vera Nazarova, Controller at WhiteOps.

Hunter made a similar claim during the keynote. “We are using cloud solutions for all of our systems. This has allowed our accounting and finance operations to stay pretty constant and stable even in the midst of external change.

Sebastian Wagner, Controller at Argus Media agreed. “Throughout this pandemic, the cloud has been an integral part of our business. Cloud-based platforms enable us to collaborate across teams and get information on our cash position in real-time.”

Furthermore, automation technology allows finance to optimize their processes and eliminate manual work. “Embracing cloud-based tools is an opportunity to rethink what you’re doing and consider if there’s a better way,” Sebastian said. “It’s not about additional things you can do, but about how you make your existing processes more effective and efficient.”

Increasing your finance agility

The day concluded with a mixology class, where attendees created the perfect old fashioned and mingled (virtually) with each other. Mixing a cocktail was not only fun, but also an apt ending to the event.

As one participant noted, “After a day of sessions focused on out-of-the-box thinking, the phrase ‘old fashioned’ should only describe your cocktail, not your finance processes.”

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