Small or large, private or public, companies all around Silicon Valley are facing many of the same challenges in finance and accounting today. These issues can affect morale in the finance team, prevent the company from getting at the information it needs to advance the business, and hinder the company’s growth. They’re not all surmountable overnight, but their impacts can be minimized if they’re given due attention.
Crushing Workloads Conflict with Efficiency Mandates
Often motivated by the need to reduce costs as well as the need to focus on high-value deliverables, companies are on a constant hunt to streamline processes and drive efficiency. At the same time, we see a lot of companies with very bright, knowledgeable and capable employees who are buried under a hefty backlog with no easing in sight.
How did they get there? The reasons vary: They may have been brought in when the company was in a crisis mode, which hasn’t let up. Or the company’s growth has outpaced the finance department, which has been under budget constraints that prevent hiring. Or, as we’ve seen with many companies, it’s been a perfect storm of extra projects that all hit at once—such as the back-to-back adoption of the new revenue recognition and lease accounting standards, and related systems implementations that went along with that. No matter the reasons why, the team feels behind—never mind trying to make progress on improving or streamlining processes.
Unfortunately, sometimes it’s simply a matter of not having the right staff to handle the work—we’ve seen underappreciated individuals perform heroic acts to hold things together as long as they can until they finally quit. Only then does the organization wake up to the workload the person was under and responds with three new hires. How much better would it have been to address the issue before the original employee burned out and left?
Rapid Changes in Technology
Emerging technology trends bring the potential for greater efficiencies and better access to critical information—along with the need to stay on top of what’s new and how the company can adapt. Automation of manual processes and moves to cloud-based ERP systems require a shift in traditional ways of working while vastly improving the timeliness and reliability of essential financial data. Artificial intelligence tools making their way to the market could transform the way finance teams operate, from how we reconcile documents and conduct reviews to realizing increases in productivity levels.
Evaluating the latest in technology should have a regular spot on the finance team’s agenda. Think about whether you are using your existing systems to their full potential. Are they being optimized to help streamline your existing processes? The things that worked great five years ago might be out-of-date today. Sometimes bringing in a third-party resource can help identify ways to streamline and make better use of existing technology.
The War for Talent Rages
The battle for finance and accounting skills and specialties continues, and there are no clear winners emerging. Companies keep looking for top talent to add to their team—employees who can think strategically, uplift the department to a higher level, leverage use of technology to automate and innovate, and who possess deep subject matter expertise. It’s a tall order for any one person to meet in the traditional, full-time workweek.
Flexibility in expectations can raise the talent of the team. It also makes sense to remain flexible to handle fluctuating workloads, and supplement with particular skills and talents when you need to. It might be the perfect time to supplement some skills for special projects and invest in training to raise the expertise of your talented team already in place.
How to Move Forward in Finance
So what’s our best advice for how to tackle these challenges? First, assess the situation and find the blockers. Carve out some time to really analyze your top bottlenecks and blockers in the finance department. Find out what is preventing you from delivering high-quality, value-add information right now. Are your business plans rooted on information that is not as credible or reliable as it could be?
For a bogged down department or an inefficiently run company, there may be little time for innovation or meaningful streamlining. If you are struggling just to get your books closed, there’s a bigger problem underneath it all. Oftentimes there are process issues upstream that just float downstream until they land in accounting. Take a look at the entire process to see if a bigger discussion is in order that may involve more than the finance team. Maybe the issue is trying to work with data from various sources that need to be reconciled, integrated or somehow manually manipulated. Investigate the spreadsheets—how many are you using to manage data and book your entries?
The answers to that could be a combination of staffing and technology issues. As you get at the root causes of the department’s issues, you may find there are opportunities to automate manual processes, harness improvements in technology or bring in another level of finance expertise. Sometimes you have to make an investment before you can see results.
As for the talent wars, sadly, we don’t have a magic bullet for that one. We find it gets harder and harder to find those “unicorn” employees who can do it all. They do exist, but they are really hard to find. So, companies may find they need to build today’s flexible team—hire someone with a reasonable financial foundation, and invest in training and upskilling the staff you do have. Our finance pros have stepped in to help companies wrangle the workload while helping to raise the level of the team in the process.
Despite the many differences among companies at various stages of the business lifecycle, they deal with common challenges in finance and accounting operations. We experience it firsthand as we help a range of fast-moving Silicon Valley companies face a host of new situations. We see it when we are consulting emerging growth ventures on a high growth trajectory and with midmarket companies grappling with a recent M&A change and new regulations. And we see it in large enterprises dealing with ever-increasing volumes of data from disparate sources, spinning out parts of their business and acquiring other firms.
Armed with ideas for finding and fending off the blockers in finance, the team can push through their latest challenge—until the next one comes along.
Pat Voll is a vice president at RoseRyan, where she provides strategic guidance to several practice areas, including corporate governance, strategic projects and operational accounting. She also manages multiple client relationships, develops new solutions for the firm, and oversees strategic and corporate culture programs. Pat previously held senior finance level positions at public companies and worked as an auditor with a Big 4 firm.