As we head into the new year, business is moving faster than ever. But too many finance teams are caught in the weeds of manual data entry, unable to keep up with the speed of the market.
“Logging into the bank, downloading an Excel spreadsheet of the statement and manually coding it is a huge time suck,” said one controller at an ecommerce company in our 2019 State of Spend Management report. That controller is not alone: manual work was the #1 spend management challenge identified by finance leaders in the report.
Finance teams could be doing more to push their companies forward, if only time-consuming manual tasks weren’t getting in the way. In a survey by cloud accounting company Blackline, more than half of the respondents said finance teams “can be entrepreneurial in the way they help the business grow” — but 34% of executives say that finance teams aren’t being utilized to their full potential.
1. Collaborate with other departments to unlock growth
In one Adaptive Insights study, 70% of CFOs ranked collaboration with other parts of the business as a top priority for their finance team. But when the finance team has their nose buried in manual data entry, collaboration falls by the wayside.
With less of their time taken up by data entry and reconciliation, finance team members can work collaboratively with other departments to supercharge new projects and identify opportunities for growth. By empowering employees, finance can position themselves as a strategic partner and fuel agility across the organization.
Steve Lock, Head of Finance for Air Command in Britain’s Royal Air Force, explained the importance of collaboration this way in a report by PwC:
“We make a difference through working with the rest of the business. The rest of the business is populated by people who want to engage, don’t naturally understand some of the financial numbers, so it’s all about how you create that information and how you create that contact to be able to influence them in the future.”
2. Revamp metrics to increase alignment
In a survey by Adaptive Insights, 46% of respondents said finance and other departments are not aligned on key metrics. And if departments aren’t aligned on metrics, they’re likely not aligned on strategic direction either — which could be keeping the company at large from making progress on its big-picture goals.
This is another area where a finance team freed from repetitive manual tasks can step in. Finance professionals are highly organized, metrics-driven, and process-oriented. With less of their time eaten up by data entry and reconciliation, they can put those skills to work to improve alignment and make sure everyone is on the same page.
With clear metrics in place, finance can deliver more meaningful information with critical context to every stakeholder, which drives better financial decisions for the company.
Manual work is one of the top 5 spend management challenges identified by finance leaders.
Download The State of Spend Management 2019 Report to learn more:
3. Turn data analysis into actionable insights
A PwC analysis found that most finance professionals spend half of their time gathering data rather than analyzing it. Top-performing finance teams, on the other hand, spend as much as 75% of their time on data analysis and insights — which they’re able to do thanks to automation tackling more routine tasks.
“We are living in a much more complex world, and that complexity is translating into more stringent requirements for timely and accurate information,” Dan Giurleo, a financial systems consultant for Care.com, told Deloitte and the Wall Street Journal. “Finance professionals need to be equipped to focus more on the substance and less on the compilation of financial reporting.”
But with systems built on manual data entry, focusing on substance and less on compilation is easier said than done. By the time the team is done collecting all the data, there’s barely any time left to think about what the information actually means. With tedious manual tasks off their plate, finance team members can spend more time on strategic analysis.
4. Develop skills for the future of finance
Strategic planning, sophisticated data analysis, process overhauls, cross-departmental collaboration — these kinds of activities sound great in theory — but anxious finance leaders would be forgiven for wondering if the team they have is up to the task.
Studies show that matching the skills of their team to the task at hand is a continuing concern for finance leaders. 55% of CFOs told Adaptive Insights that lack of analytics expertise is their greatest challenge in developing their teams for 2020.
This is another area where easing the burden of manual tasks can yield a huge return on investment. With less time being eaten up by manual data entry, finance team members can invest that time back into gaining the skill sets that will make them — and, by extension, their organizations — more ready to compete in a rapidly digitizing economy.
PwC’s 2019 Finance Effectiveness Benchmark Report underscores the value that a culture of continuous learning and improvement can have for finance teams:
“Across our finance effectiveness benchmark groups, those who invest in learning and development have half the resignation rates than those who don’t. Lower turnover means lower replacement costs, less drag on productivity, and less time for retraining—and when it’s tailored to your situation, company provided learning grows more stable teams who are capable of understanding the business and raising their performance game.”
Get manual reconciliation out of your finance team’s way
Even the best finance team is cut off at the knees if they’re losing days every month to manual data entry and reconciliation. Fortunately, there’s a solution: automation.
According to PwC, automation and behavior change can reduce the time burden on finance teams by 30-40%. By automating tedious manual tasks like data entry and reconciliation, companies can cut down on human error, reduce incomplete information, and free up valuable finance team bandwidth for other higher-impact tasks to help move the company forward.
By investing in solutions with automated reconciliation, like distributed spend management software, companies can get those tedious, repetitive tasks off their finance team’s plate, freeing them up to unlock growth across the company.