In today’s current economic climate, the role of the CFO as a strategic partner is more important than ever. Finance leaders are no longer responsible for more traditional aspects of the finance department, which includes record keeping, transacting, and reconciliation. Today, finance leaders across all industries must now contribute to their organization’s recovery efforts and make the difficult decisions around resource allocation, budgeting, and cash-flow planning.
According to the Silicon Valley venture capital firm, Andreesen Horowitz, “By necessity, today’s CFO is expected to be part data analyst and part systems architect, stitching together piecemeal data from rudimentary software products.”
Unfortunately, finance leaders receive the same amount of time in a day as everyone else. And with so much on their plate, every second counts.
In our recent webinar, we spoke with insiders from Jirav, Apriocloud, and Procurify to discuss how finance leaders can begin to allocate more time and resources to focus on strategic business making rather than transactional chores in an attempt to free up time.
Here are the important takeaways.
Introducing the speakers
Blake Oliver, CPA
Director of Marketing, Jirav
Blake Oliver, CPA, is an entrepreneur, accountant, writer, and speaker who specializes in cloud accounting technology. In 2016 and 2017, Blake was named a “40 Under 40” in the accounting profession by CPA Practice Advisor. He is the Director of Marketing for Jirav. He also co-hosts the Cloud Accounting Podcast, a weekly news round-up at the intersection of accounting and technology that is also the #1 podcast for accountants and bookkeepers in the world.
Bruce A. Phillips, CPA
Managing Director & Partner, Aprio Cloud
Bruce A. Phillips is a seasoned CPA and a passionate advocate for cloud technology. His leadership expertise running his own CPA firm, tenure as a CFO and COO of tech startups, and experience as a cloud technology beta tester, make Bruce one of the most respected names in cloud accounting.
Prior to co-founding Aprio Cloud, Bruce spent seven years at E&Y helping clients navigate challenging tax and compliance environments.
Dani Hao (Moderator)
Community and Events Manager, Procurify
Dani Hao is disrupting the male-dominated industry of finance and accounting with her podcast Spend Culture Stories, which is now a leading podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play in the U.S. and Canada.
The podcast provides a platform for finance leaders to be vulnerable to the challenges and learnings when people, organizations, and spend meet.
Procurify is a SaaS spend management solution that manages over $7 billion of organizational spending for fast-growing companies around the world.
The key takeaways from the webinar
1. Concentrate on long-term strategies, not band-aid solutions
“So much happened in 2020,” explains Blake, “and no one is short-term cash-flow forecasting anymore.”
At the beginning of the pandemic when society shut down for an extended period, finance leaders were trapped between short-term solutioning in response to the pandemic and the possibility of re-strategizing for the long term.
In 2021, this picture is much clearer. “It’s not like things are going to go back to normal when it comes to those business models,” Blake continues. “This is not just a short-term impact on us. This is a long-term shift. People are getting used to working from home. They’ve relocated from cities to more rural areas or smaller cities. E-commerce is booming. Telehealth is booming. All of this is changing how we do business in a variety of industries.”
For finance leaders, it’s apparent that automated, transparent, and agile technologies are now more important than ever, and paper-based processes that involve complex and manual spreadsheets will inevitably cost you in more than one way.
“If you want to be proactive, it’s really about being able to do cash flow forecasting and do it quickly. You can’t rely on spreadsheets anymore.”
Blake Blake Oliver, CPA, Director of Marketing, Jirav
2. Use technology to remain agile…
Paired with long-term solutioning is the desire to become more agile. If the pandemic has taught finance leaders anything, it’s to follow the Boy Scout’s motto and ‘always be prepared.’ Here lies the true key to more time.
“[The pandemic] is a good argument in favor of being not necessarily on the cutting edge of technology, but at least being in that leading group,” Blake explains. “You don’t need to be first adopters. But using the latest tech will help. Ultimately, you never know when that next huge event is going to come along and completely disrupt everything. You want to be ready.”
Bruce elaborates: “For the teams that were just doing things the old way because it was working well, they were the ones who got stuck going into the office to print paper checks, and they were unable to access things remotely. So, yes, you don’t even have to be doing something so cutting edge, you just have to be on top of the trends and work in advance, knowing that it’s going to become useful down the road.”
Agile finance leaders bounced back quickly from the sudden workplace transition. For their teams, the technology was already in place and productivity remained consistent.
As a consequence, strategic partners like CFOs could focus on business continuity rather than spread their time on rebuilding foundational workplace practices and change management.
3. …but choose that technology wisely
Settling on the right technology for your business isn’t easy, and when it comes to deciding on your toolkit, it’s important to weigh up all your options. Do you choose an all-in-one solution? Or do you select a best-in-breed technology that perhaps lacks integrations with the rest of your tech stack? Blake explains:
“Another way to think of the discussion of the finance tech suite is ‘all in one’ versus ‘best of breed’. The problem with ERP (enterprise resource management), for example, is that the sales guys are always going to tell you it can do everything you need. And it usually can do everything you need, but maybe 80 percent as well as you would like it to. The nice thing about building your own is that you can get the best of everything and make everyone happy.”
For proactive CFOs, then, building a tailored finance tech suite is the answer to maximum efficiency. What’s more, ensuring that this tech suite communicates with your existing solutions makes for transparent and data-driven decision making.
4. Automate internal processes wherever possible
“If you aren’t using a cloud accounting system and if you’re not using bank feeds to automate the import of transaction data on a daily or weekly basis, you’re missing out,” explains Blake.
Tying into technology, agility, and building long-term solutions is the need to automate, iterate, and consistently review internal processes. Only then can companies achieve maximum productivity. For everyone, streamlining internal processes by automating processes is a 2021 priority, yet many strategic partners will depriotize this if processes are working ‘well enough.’
“What I’ve learned in the last few years is that all the time that we’re spending on the finance side is in spreadsheets. This is where finance leaders have a lot of opportunity to improve processes,” Blake continues. “A great example is just connecting your trial balance to your financial model. Or, it’s connecting your financial model to your budget and your forecast so that you’re not copying and pasting into a spreadsheet every single time you need to update something.”
Bruce gives us a good example: “I was sitting on a call two days ago and it was a pitch for a large organization. They asked me ‘how are you going to do the data entry?’ and I answered that we don’t do data entry. Instead, we partner with technology companies and we have a tech stack where the data moves automatically. And what do you get when the data moves automatically?” Time back.
Work around the clock without working around the clock
Automated processes allow finance teams to work around the clock without working around the clock. Better yet, they eliminate human error like typos and transpositions and present accurate, meaningful data. “You would be surprised how many people are still entering data,” says Bruce. “Whether it is from the revenue side or from the inventory side or from expense management, we’re set up so that everything flows automatically.”
“One way to figure out where I’m wasting time on the finance side is to think that every time I copy and paste something from one spreadsheet into another, that’s an opportunity to automate.”
Blake Oliver, CPA, Director of Marketing, Jirav
To do all of this, you need internal buy-in from above and below
“You need buy-in from above. That could be your board, it could be your CEO, it could be the owner, whoever it is.”
Bruce A. Phillips, CPA, Managing Director & Partner, Aprio Cloud
The biggest blockers to long-term solutioning, automated internal controls, and agile technology, come from above. If your finance team is perceived as a cost center from your leadership team, it’s going to be hard to spend money on new technology.
Blake explains: “[Your leadership team] is going to look at you like a Honda Civic with one hundred thousand miles on it. And at that point, you’re going to drive it until it breaks and then you’re going to replace it. And that’s just the nature of how you approach a cost center often.”
Of course, buy-in from below is just as important. “When you start introducing new things, [people] freak out,” says Bruce. “We have to tell people that we’re not trying to replace them. We’re trying to eliminate the fact that they’re keying in five hundred invoices and we have to do something that’s going to allow us to grow.”
That ‘something’ is to introduce the right technology, at the right cost, and at the right time. Only then can finance leaders regain their time and become the effective strategic partner that their role demands.
To find out more about how to regain your time in 2021, visit Procurify.