VAR & Finance Business Partnering

Discover insights from CFOs at The Fold & Planful on leveraging VAR technology for finance business partnering success. Learn from pitfalls for effective transformation.

What can the digital finance function stand to learn from VAR’s own goals? 

The answer is probably more than you think!

While Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology was introduced to improve decision-making time and accuracy on the pitch, it’s been marred with controversy from the beginning. So, what are the pitfalls of this case-study in tech-first transformation, and what can be done to ensure a more people-centric approach for finance? 

Emmalene Maxwell (CFO at The Fold) and Dan Fletcher (CFO at Planful) give their post-match analysis on the trials and tribulations of VAR vs. tech implementation in finance, and their top tips for putting your transformation strategy in a winning league of its own.

Offside traps in finance technology adoption

We know what you’re thinking so let’s cut to the chase: what does VAR really have to do with finance? 

“I’ll be honest, at first I did scratch my head a bit trying to find the connection!” says Dan. “But the more I thought about it, the more I viewed it as a compelling analogy.”

“Back in the early 2010s, there were always complaints about refereeing in English football, due to errors and inefficiency from refereeing being entirely manual. Similarly with finance, a lot of processes are - or used to be - manual too, which means limitations.”

Emmalene agrees that digital transformation in finance stems a lot from a frustration with manual processes, which is where automation can come into its own: 

“At the root of the drive for greater finance technology is a need for more consistent, data-driven decisions. That’s exactly where the need for VAR came from too. But similar to the business world, there’s been inconsistency with how, when and why VAR is used.”

“That inconsistency comes from lack of clarity and communication, and not defining what technology is going to be used for. It’s an error we could all learn from in finance.”

For Dan, nowhere is the link between VAR and finance more apparent than when making the right choice about what finance technology to invest in:

“In my opinion, VAR has slowed down the free-flowing game of football, which was the complaint it was trying to address in the first place! To parallel that with implementing technology in finance, if the process becomes slower and more arduous after the adoption of technology, it’s a sign you’re doing it wrong.”

Emmalene agrees technology should be a playmaker for the finance team, not a dead weight holding them back: 

“If technology creates an inefficient process, then adoption becomes harder and harder. You need upfront planning to define what the new process is, so everyone is clear and goes into that process with their eyes open, ready to adopt it.”

Ensuring tech implementation excellence 

VAR takes a bit of a bashing, but is it really always the technology itself at fault? 

“VAR is effective in and of itself, it’s the implementation that was a bit bungled,” says Dan. “A huge global football community felt like VAR was foisted upon them. That lack of education fuelled a lack of enthusiasm for the tech from fans and stakeholders alike. As a result, any little thing that went wrong with it became a lightning rod.”

It’s a stark reminder that change management can make or break any tech implementation, including digital transformation in finance:

“At The Fold, we’re really hot on bringing people along for the journey,” says Emmalene. “I’ve done two significant ERP implementations now, and the difference between them was night and day! That came down to the story we were telling, and how motivated and involved people were in the process.”

The key is to reframe tech implementation from a low-priority Friday afternoon project, to a top-level business priority that people are excited to be a part of. But what’s the game plan for getting people onboard?

“For me, there’s two simple steps,” says Dan. “First, you have to highlight the existing pain the finance technology will be addressing in order to drive the why. The second step is education and getting people to understand the amazing benefits they’re going to see.”

Thinking creatively to incentivise your team can go a long way to getting people bought into the finance transformation you’re trying to make. 

That can look like inspiring someone to be part of something better for the business, or simply highlighting the benefits of having experience in a particular tech implementation on their CVs, says Dan:

“For team members, there are always personal reasons to get excited about an implementation. It’s your job as senior leader to help them see the light!”

And it’s not just your team members who need hyping up from beginning to end: it’s just as crucial - if not more - that senior leadership share the enthusiasm, says Emmalene: 

“If you don’t have senior leadership backing and a senior sponsor leading the change, trust me, that lack of conviction will spread like wildfire through the team. Getting the right people on the right page - from the implementation team to the senior sponsor - is imperative.”

Coaching teams to finance transformation success

So, when it comes to leading the charge for the implementation of new tech, who’s job is it anyway to take transformation from midfield to striker?

Definitely not the CEO, according to Dan:

“Having worked with CEOs myself, they’re far too busy and external facing; it can be hard to get them to lean into the technical details. A senior executive sponsor for the implementation of new finance technology should be someone conversant in the tech, someone to push the team forward when energy lags and break down barriers.”

And if you’re thinking of passing the ball to an FP&A, think again, according to Emmalene, who agrees the role of senior sponsor belongs to someone C-Suite:

“It obviously depends on the structure of your business, but it has to be someone senior enough to make decisions. You need someone with the gravitas to bring people along for the journey, and the fearlessness to force people’s hands if there’s pushback.”

If you hadn’t already guessed it then, the CFO is perfectly primed for the job. In fact, if the CFO isn’t jumping at the chance to step up, it might be a warning sign, according to Dan: 

“If your CFO doesn’t want to be involved in the implementation of a new tool - don’t do it! You have a huge problem! Your CFO at least needs to be passionately sure of the success of any project. If they aren’t willing to show up at key moments for the implementation team and help rally the troops, then you’re going to have a huge challenge on your hands.”

Dan and Emmalene’s parting words of wisdom for the next ambassador for VAR parallels advice for CFOs looking to take on the challenge of driving their next tech implementation project to success:

“Take a hard look at how you can be more flexible and receive feedback. Whether you’re managing the expectations of football fans or team members, clarity is always key!” says Dan.

“I’d tell the next ambassador for VAR 2.0 to bring the fans along for the journey,” says Emmalene. “The same goes for CFOs implementing new tech: paint a clear picture of what a brighter future will look like, and you’ll be sure to bring your team along for the ride.”

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Christopher Argent, Founder, GENCFO

Chris is the founder and MD of and creator of the Digital Finance Function Model and a contributor to many articles on our platform. Chris focuses on the shift toward digital transformation in accounting and finance, shows you what good looks like, then helps to get you there!

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