An organisation now expects the finance team to deliver strategic guidance. It should support the business with analysis for operational decision making and translate corporate strategy into business-level financial plans.
To meet these expectations, the CFO and the finance team need to transform. They need to deliver strategic guidance whilst still fulfilling the governance brief. The organisation wants ‘more strategist, less beancounter’. They want finance to be a trusted business partner.
The need for transformation applies to the whole finance team, whether their role is one of governance or guidance.
Day-to-day processes, such as Accounts Receivable (AR) or Accounts Payable (AP), often drive governance roles. These are areas where you can find significant productivity improvements, using Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to automate manual and cumbersome tasks. It is especially the case where a legacy solution is in place, with older, more limited capability and functionality. However, while improvements to these day-to-day processes are necessary, they are unlikely to yield the strategic change that the organisation is looking for.
The guidance role within an organisation often emanates from within the FP&A function. Among other tasks, it is responsible for reporting and analysis of operational performance and overseeing budgeting and planning. Changes to these could include more in-depth analysis, yielding greater insight in reporting, or developing planning to be driver based and devolved. Both process changes can add real value, where you can easily demonstrate strategy and guidance to the rest of the organisation.
A high proportion of the FP&A team is likely to be financially qualified, with commensurate levels of remuneration. If time is made available to them, they are the individuals with the skills who can get their heads above the parapet to identify and deliver ongoing transformation.
It is imperative that the FP&A team is adequately resourced and that their productivity is high. However, we know from research and experience that there are still too many manual tasks being performed by FP&A, limiting the time available for adding insight and value. So, what tasks lend themselves to automation? Those that are rules-based or have consistent steps. Typical examples within FP&A are:
If FP&A can automate these tasks, the time created will allow them to focus on adding value, creating significant benefits to the organisation.
Knowing where to start on the transformation journey can be daunting. Starting with process improvements is simple for everyone to understand. Because RPA can be applied to and leverages on existing applications, it also offers a relatively short implementation timeline and is low cost. Therefore, you can achieve a quick time-to-value, which is critical at a time when competition for funds is fierce.
The finance team is not immune to the drive for cost savings and efficiencies. However, should you expect any productivity improvements gained through transformation to result in headcount reduction and cost savings within finance?
In recent months, the FP&A team has shown how critical they are to the organisation in times of uncertainty and crisis. Now is the time to invest in finance, especially FP&A. It should take the form of investing in people, either additional headcount or upskilling the current team.
So, now is the time to invest in FP&A, in the people and the technology to support them. This will create the time for FP&A to focus on the high-value tasks and become the trusted business partners organisations now expect them to be.