By Brian Maslen on April 25, 2022

Posted in Expense Management

Finance leaders have a view into all aspects of a business and powerful insights to offer as a result, but often find themselves bogged down by time-consuming tasks that limit their impact. This three-step approach, developed from our experience working with hundreds of finance and accounting teams, will help you elevate and empower your finance team to achieve more. 

1. Prioritize What’s Truly Important

IMPORTANT = DRIVES THE BUSINESS FORWARD

Finance people are naturally very task-oriented, but inertia can keep you in the same routine month after month. If you start to see a mismatch between what’s important to the business and what your finance department is actually spending time and money on, you have entered dangerous territory.  It’s important to intentionally shift away from time-consuming data-gathering activities and move toward more forward-looking analysis that can help drive better actions and better decisions.

TAKE TIME TO REFLECT AND RECALIBRATE

It’s tough to pull yourself away from the day-to-day, but it’s a good idea to recalibrate every 6 to 12 months. You could do this during the annual planning process or at an offsite. This recalibration could also be triggered by a significant event such as a change in business structure, personnel, or when facing increased competitive pressure. The goal is to make sure most of your time and money are spent on activities that drive most of your business value, and to make adjustments when important changes happen. 

“The goal is to make sure most of your time and money are spent on activities that drive most of your business value, and to make adjustments when important changes happen."

QUESTION THE STATUS QUO

As you recalibrate or reevaluate, ask yourself these questions: 

  • What activities are taking most of our time? Are they all necessary? 
  • If something is important, is it efficient or is it taking too long? 
  • Is it taking a disproportionate amount of time for the value it offers?
  • Is our process prone to errors? Is it compliant with internal and external audit requirements?
  • If there’s an opportunity to do something differently, how much time or money could be saved? Try to quantify it and get as specific as possible (hard and soft costs). 

 

2. Build Effective Processes and Systems 

Once you prioritize and understand what you should be spending your time on, the next step is to find ways to stop, or at least reduce, the amount of time and money spent on less important activities. That’s not always an easy shift, but the good news is that even small changes can make a big difference. They also build momentum for bigger changes that need to happen. 

This “change mindset” was deeply embedded in the culture of the manufacturing firms I have worked with—a focus on continuous improvement, lean manufacturing, and Six Sigma methodologies. Controllers are naturally drawn to this mindset. They don’t want to be fighting fires every day, and are always on the lookout for new and better systems that can help streamline and automate. As you consider new systems, be sure to assess these often overlooked elements. 

FLEXIBILITY

The system should work for you, not the other way around. All businesses are different and systems should be customized for you. You should be able to pull information directly from the system without downloading and manipulating it offline. Flexible systems can also be used by anyone in the company, not just the finance team, to get what they need whenever they need it. 

“Flexible systems can also be used by anyone in the company, not just the finance team, to get what they need whenever they need it.”

EMBEDDED CONTROLS

One of the controller’s fundamental responsibilities is ensuring that assets are used in an appropriate way through the use of internal controls like policies, procedures, audits, segregation of duties, etc. 

When these controls are deeply embedded within your finance systems, fewer infractions occur because the system automatically prevents them. This allows the finance team to focus on being a business partner helping make better decisions instead of being a bottleneck. 

Policies provide guidance and place bounds around what happens in the company. Most companies, including Center, have a spending approval matrix where different approvals are required depending on the level and type of spend. To make that compliance very easy, we embed that matrix right into our Center Expense solution, which is far more effective than storing the policy in a PDF somewhere. 

INTEGRATION AND EASY MAINTENANCE

We all use a variety of systems, sometimes collected over many years: ERP, pricing, payroll, budgeting, etc. Ideally, they all need to talk to each other because if they don’t, you will waste time pulling and feeding data—and making mistakes along the way. On the maintenance side, you shouldn’t need to hire a consultant every time you want to make changes to the system. Your system should be user-friendly, and you should be able to easily maintain and update it. 

“You shouldn’t need to hire a consultant every time you want to make changes to the system.”

3. Go Beyond the Numbers

By reducing the resources dedicated to less important activities, you are freed up to tackle those higher-level, more value-added problems. After all, every single transaction the company makes eventually flows to the controller group for consolidation, and ideally, understanding.

“Every single transaction the company makes eventually flows to the controller group for consolidation, and ideally, understanding.”

It’s that last word, “understanding,” that’s crucial here. Controllers have a very solid understanding of their business and what drives it. Poor finance systems might be able to get the job done—they can help with basic recording and compiling, but that doesn’t help elevate the finance controller role to its full potential. And it doesn’t leverage that strong business knowledge that the controller team has. 

 

 

But a great finance team that’s using great systems can elevate their contributions. You have the talent and you have the time to get creative and go beyond the numbers. You actually have a chance to identify improvement and growth opportunities for the business. Great systems do the legwork for you and allow you to jump right into analysis and decision-making. 

Want to see how Center can help your finance team elevate its impact? Sign up for a personalized demo.
 

About the Author
Brian Maslen, MBA, CPA, CMA, serves as the corporate controller at Center. Based in Bellevue, Washington, Center offers CenterCard® and Center® Expense, an integrated corporate card and expense software solution that uses real-time data to help monitor expenses and optimize spend. As Center’s controller, Maslen is responsible for the accounting, tax, and treasury functions. He also leads product initiatives to ensure Center’s software meets the needs of finance professionals, building off his prior experience in Accounting and FP&A roles at Blackberry and Owens Corning.

Photo credit: Omar Prestwich