Improve your financial close process todayBy Sagar Velagala, published on Sep 9, 2020
No matter how you feel about your current financial close process, there is always plenty of room for improvement. CFOs often run into the same issues during every month-end financial reporting cycle, including:
- Errors driven by excessive manual data entry
- Incorrectly tagged expense reports and invoices by employees
- Inconsistent understanding of company expense and procurement processes across departments
- “Surprise” invoices and expenses
- Missed days-to-close targets
- Late distribution of financial statements
These challenges are not only time-consuming to solve, but can negatively impact your team’s morale, especially if the same issues crop up every single month.
"Because of the highly manual nature of the financial close process, something can and will always go wrong, regardless of the size and experience of your team. The key to success is not in avoiding mistakes, but having the tools, processes, and culture of continuous improvement in place."
- Rebecca Morrison, VP of Finance @ Lola.com
We’ve outlined are some “simple" ways you can start improving your financial close process today.
Implement reusable close process checklists
In The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, author Dr. Atul Gawande explains how simple checklists can have a dramatic impact on outcomes for everything from surgery, to flight safety, to skyscraper construction. If the introduction of a humble checklist can dramatically reduce post-surgery infection rates in hectic ER rooms, it can definitely help reduce errors in account reconciliation and the closing process.
We highly recommend reading the book (its a quick read), but here are some quick takeaways:
- Why: “Checklists…remind us of the minimum necessary steps and make them explicit. They not only offer the possibility of verification but also instill a kind of discipline of higher performance.”
- “Read-Do” checklist: Like a recipe, it tells you what to do
- “Do-Confirm” checklist: Like a pilot’s pre-takeoff routine, this makes sure you never overlook anything when executing repetitive tasks
Shift from a “back-office” to a “business partner” mindset
The traditional view of finance and accounting is as a “back-office” function that “crunches the numbers.” While this view is not entirely wrong (at best, it’s an oversimplification), it has the unfortunate effect of creating a transactional environment between finance and other business units in the organization. Individual contributors in the sales and marketing teams will hand-off their piles of expense reports and invoices, with little knowledge of how their submissions directly impact their ability to invest and spend money to hit their goals in the future. At the same time, finance and accounting teams often “hand-off” budgets, giving little to no explanation of how they were derived or context on how much is already allocated to recurring expenses. Lost in this hand-off are opportunities to leverage the analytical skills of the finance team to make better strategic decisions, and gain deeper insights into the operations and proactively manage spend. While there are no quick fixes to change the culture of your finance team, it’s important to keep this in mind as you evaluate your financial close process.
Make time for a financial close retrospective
The financial close process is an exercise in project management. One of the fundamental challenges faced in any project is the inevitability of unforeseen problems (i.e. the “surprise” invoice or missing expense report). This challenge has been addressed in other fields by focusing on continuous improvement (like agile software development, or lean manufacturing) rather than traditional plan-then-work approaches (like the waterfall project plan).
One of the easiest, and most valuable interventions you can introduce is the retrospective. A “retro” is simply an opportunity for the team to reflect on the past close cycle, identify successes and opportunities, and suggest solutions to these issues. This simple meeting empowers your team to become more self-reliant, and over time will enable you to chip away at a complex problem.
Implement modern spend management software solutions
When it comes down to it, your financial close process should be heavily automated so that errors are easily caught or downright eliminated. Modern spend management software leverages consumer-grade design, machine learning, and integrations to:
- make it easy for employees to submit expenses and invoices correctly
- automatically map vendors and merchants to the right general ledger accounts
- automate recurring journal entries
- Reduce the reliance on Excel by generating financial reports
- Generate reporting to support the financial close process
By combining these spend management software solutions with a modern corporate card and virtual card program, your team can gain real-time visibility into company spend. Finally, your team can proactively manage spend and resolve issues, not just during crunch time at the start of the month.