8 Key Insights to Creating a Flexible & Sustainable Finance Department for the Future

15 March 2018 by Olly Wakefield

4 minutes (1060 Words)

For finance professionals today, the question of how best to create a flexible, sustainable department is becoming especially pertinent. New trends in the technology landscape, as well as changing business models, are driving transformation in a function that still underpins both the everyday operations, and the innovation, of the business.

How can finance leaders transform the department today to ensure it is responsive the needs of the business tomorrow? La Fosse brought together senior executive finance leaders to discuss how to build a transformation agenda that works.

Here are their 8 key insights on how to best create a flexible and sustainable finance department for the future.

1. Look beyond a project’s end
Big ‘misses’ still happen, be they in outsourced operations or in-house. This is in part due to the disconnect between simply implementing new technology and working out how to exploit the untapped value it holds once it’s there: there’s no shortage of new systems rollouts, but few are designed to actually use the technology to its full potential.

The way transformation programmes are set up may be to blame, with the business focusing too much on reaching a clear end to the project.
Rather than celebrating victory for the new system after it’s been installed and moving on, take the time to really consider the next steps that need to come after the project’s completion and be sure to agree who’s in charge of taking the new technology forward.

2. Good leadership must unite business functions
Historically, the IT department has been considered the lead when it comes to managing transformation programmes and would drive new infrastructure installations. Now, however, there’s more of an understanding that the business needs to be heavily involved at the start of such projects, and that they are driven jointly by both functions.

Good leadership is the key to taking the business along on the transformation journey, making sure all relevant stakeholders are onboard, well-coordinated, and talking to each other to agree goals, deliverables, and deadlines.

While different functions may not be natural bedfellows, you must work to bring them together to ensure the programme doesn’t struggle to deliver in the long-term. Often the strongest leaders should be the one’s taking on transformation, not just the one closest to the action.

3. Finance shouldn’t be afraid of its ambition
Finance is still facing continual pressure to cut costs, which leaves the business trying to do more with the same or smaller budgets. The business’ unwillingness to reinvest or increase funding, while at the same time needing to reinvent itself or expand, is pulling the finance department in different directions.

This had created a situation which has led to the perception, in some quarters, that finance may be suffering from a lack of ambition.
Senior execs need to give finance leaders the space to take risks, change personnel, and reshape the finance department as a leader rather than a follower within the business, to help the function gain a fresh, bolder approach to its role.

4. Protect the finance brand
As finance often comes onto the business’ radar when things go wrong, there are questions around whether the self-esteem of the function could do with a boost.

One solution to bolstering finance’s self-image is to encourage staff to shout about the function’s achievements – even if they don’t involve direct customer contact, such communications campaigns can help build confidence both internally and externally.

In addition, being vocal about successes, and discussing how they have enabled business processes and decision-making, can raise the opinion of finance across the company by humanising its work. In short, think more like marketing – and be proactive about marketing the finance department’s brand to the rest of the business.

5. Decide where best to spend your attention
Responding to every request can help boost finance’s image within the business, but it comes at a great cost – it’s impossible to meet all of those requests, so more innovative work takes a back seat as finance scrabbles to keep on top of demands.

To turn this around, the finance function needs to understand how and where to divide it’s time to achieve the best result. Think more about what it is you’re talking about, and how it aligns with the department’s strategic or measurable objectives.

Addressing common finance problems such as compliance will always remain high on the agenda, but other day-to-day requests need to be prioritised accordingly. Consider a helpdesk approach or self-service to help mitigate this.

6. Create the job you want
Examining the worst aspects of the job can be beneficial for driving change. Asking personnel to consider how they can make their job more interesting can enable them to introduce change, as long as they are operating in a business culture that permits it.

Similarly, execs should empower staff to feel they actively transform work in the department by asking them to identify the one main issue or process that’s holding them back and work together to identify a solution to that problem.

Not only will this make individual staff members’ working days more enjoyable by freeing them from their most hated work, it can also underpin wider change beneficial to the business, by giving staff time to concentrate on more pioneering projects.

7. Automation is the new outsourcing?
It’s hard to escape the buzz around robotic process automation as a means of generating process improvement, but opinion is divided over whether it currently can offer more than outsourcing can.

For some, consider involving the finance function in a project to strip processes down to their bare bones and automate what you can through ML and AI, giving staff more time to concentrate on high value tasks.

For others, this approach may take too long to generate substantial process improvement, so instead consider outsourcing, which can deliver quick wins and still lay the foundations of robotic process automation further down the line.

8. Couple data with judgement
Data science and analytics are opening new ways for finance to prove its worth, by finding the right numbers and identifying the upcoming trends that are affecting the business.

However, all data has to be supplemented with good judgement – and this is where finance can excel, not only by offering wise counsel on financial matters, but also by providing a stance on company ethics, considering matters such as the environment and labour questions.


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