We look at the new technologies set to revolutionise the role of corporate finance departments, driving the ability of CFOs to streamline processes, unearth deeper insights and add value to the business.
Digital and finance transformation consultant, Chris Argent, gives us his view on the changing ways of working in finance.
Finance professionals have the same responsibilities they’ve always had, yet their day-to-day life is changing as maturing and emerging technologies come into use and ignite their analytics capabilities.
Chris says: “In finance we’ve always had the goals of managing our financial growth and performance, driving costs down and improving efficiencies. What I see now is a momentum behind technology.” He adds: Everyone is becoming more tech-savvy, and early-use cases that were a bit woolly are starting to be proven. Technology is becoming an enabler for finance to create value in the business too.”
“Technology is paving the way for financial value in business.”
Stand-out technologies he mentions include RPA (robotic process automation) and AI (machine learning), as well as advances in data visualisation. These could have a big impact on finance departments and how they handle payments. And the better data that would come as a result could give payments – and the insights they can provide – more strategic weight in an organisation.
Potential benefits include the ability to accurately predict who will pay when, to better understand the unified total exposure to a customer with multiple accounts, and to provide deep bad-debt analysis. It could also help turn finance professionals into more authoritative strategic voices within the organisation.
Making payments work harder
For CFOs, accuracy and streamlined processes are a must. As such, they are driving interest in automation and the development of a robotic workforce. “Process optimisation and process efficiency are among the biggest priorities for CFOs,” says Christopher. “There’s a reason for that. Humans can sometimes cut processes short or even totally ignore them. Processes may not be applied consistently around the world, and if you’re a global company that can mean a poor customer or supplier experience and a payment being delayed.”
A poor payment process has consequences. Delayed payments is just one, but if information is not recorded throughout, a business’s ability to monitor spend, handle issues with suppliers, build a good buyer/supplier relationship and create accurate financial reports could all be affected.
“Rather than pushing data, we’re starting to feel a pull. ”
In one example of a change initiative for a large corporate, Christopher says the finance department cut back the supplier onboarding time from two weeks to 48 hours. “Previously, the business kept in contact with the customer over those two weeks but, even so, the overall advocacy and net promoter scores were low because suppliers wanted something to happen quickly. So, through an RPA project for that single process, we ended up with a reduced time from start to finish, enabled by a well-defined process which was automated, data to analyse and a customer experience improvement.”
The streamlined look and feel of the interaction is similar to those now being offered through virtual card solutions. Precisionpay, for example, can accelerate improvements in payment processes and capture data from the point of requisition through to the point of transaction.
A demand for data
“In the future, real-time interactions in finance could become standard practice. If so, the demand for timely, in-depth data will only grow. That’s already the case in some businesses,” says Christopher.
“Rather than pushing data analytics and data science, we’re starting to feel a pull. Finance professionals are up against it to not just manage financial data and performance, but to provide real value, deep analysis and insight, and to include non-financial insight as well as talking more widely about the business and industry. And they want all this via a self-service portal.”
The challenges of providing a good user experience for those demands on data are starting to be met through advanced data visualisation. Although still not seen as critical, visualisation tools will open up new paths into the richer data available, including new data sets from machine learning, and allow finance to tell the story around company performance in new ways.
The priorities for finance will always be managing financial performance and growth, and there will still be a need to convey that to those outside the department. But how this is being communicated is changing.
Another gain from process and payments optimisation is likely to be around reporting. “If two weeks of the month are dedicated to report creation and two weeks are dedicated to communicating that information, then you’ve effectively wasted half the month,” says Christopher.
With tactical reporting automated and an ability to self-serve, finance will have time to move towards strategic partnering and real insight. “That’s where finance can partner with the business not just to highlight variances, but to be part of the value conversation about how to improve performance and growth,” says Christopher. This explains current discussions in finance circles of CFOs effectively becoming ‘chief value officers’.
The benefits of innovative payment and process technologies are starting to make perfect sense for a function that is ready, willing and perfectly able to ramp up its capabilities and add value to the business.
This article was published on Barclaycard AP Insights.