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Finance Teams Leverage Automation to Drive New Business Strategies

The shift to remote work has driven finance and accounting teams to take a deeper look into the tools they’re leveraging and how their systems, processes and controls are set up. While some companies are further along in this journey than others, all have had to revisit their processes and evaluate their tech stacks.

“These last 18-plus months have been a really hard shift for companies,” Kelly Hicks, global controller at Airbase, told PYMNTS. “I think the companies that were able to adapt the fastest already had a lot of great technology and tools to help them do that, or they were able to move in that direction quickly.”

Before the pandemic, some companies had been able to manage with manual processes that were time-consuming and less than ideal, but the shift to a remote world forced them to revisit those processes – because, for example, they could no longer get a check or invoice sent to an office location to be scanned and processed.

“I’ve always told my teams that what we’re doing today is not what we need to be doing a year from today,” Hicks said. “We’re always challenging the status quo and rethinking those processes. A lot of times, those changes are driven by the adoption of new technology.”

Using New Technology to Drive Insight

The spend management area, for example, has changed a lot in recent years. It used to be that teams had to use standalone platforms to handle non-payroll spend, including a bill payment processor, an expense reimbursement tool and a corporate card platform. That was for a U.S. entity alone; additional platforms were needed internationally.

A setup like that was hard on the finance and accounting team because they had to handle all of the processes, upkeep and integrations into their enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. That’s especially true for teams at small and medium-sized businesses, which are often understaffed.

“Over the last five to 10 years, we’ve seen technology shifting a lot of the finance and accounting processes across the board,” Hicks said. “There are new stock-based comp tools, or commission calculators, or sales tax, or budgeting and planning solutions. There’s really a whole new toolbox that teams can use to not only help us calculate the numbers and close the books, but to really understand and help drive insight into those numbers.”

Adding More Value to the Organization

That is a key benefit of new technology, said Hicks: It can allow controllers to spend more time working in areas that drive the business forward. Data shows that controllers spend 70% of their time closing the books and managing compliance. When automation and efficiencies are driven into the process, that percentage can be reduced.

“You’re spending less time crunching the numbers, and then you’re able to spend more time analyzing what those numbers actually mean,” Hicks said. “This allows finance and accounting teams to add more value to the organization and have more exciting careers.”

Looking ahead, Hicks expects that trend to continue, with new tools reducing the need for manual efforts and allowing more time for the analysis and review of numbers. For controllers, having a continuous close and getting numbers throughout a period, rather than just at the end, will be increasingly important. On the finance side, too, there will be a move toward planning, predicting and analytics.

“Companies are no longer just doing annual plans and then revisiting them once a year,” Hicks said. “They’re looking at agile plans and planning processes to move at the same speed the business is moving, and adapting to this changing environment.”

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