Making Your Mark: Improving Accounting Processes Without Breaking What Works

November 8, 2019 Theresa Edwards

cfo looking at financial reports/accounting processes

If you're a CFO that's moved into a new role – through headhunting, traditional hiring processes, or through a recent promotion – you can expect at least one thing about the transition: you'll almost certainly be onboarding yourself. 

The company and industry you're in may change. The scope of the role might even change. But one thing never changes if you've recently accepted a CFO position. In the first 30 days, "job number one is 'just don't break anything'." That's according to Michael Murphy, the CFO here at Personiv, so you can bet that it's sound advice.  His expertise has spanned industries, and he has lent his leadership skills across operational departments in companies large and small for over 20 years. 

"Just don't break anything," is undoubtedly sound advice, but it's admittedly a little broad. So, as you settle into your new role, here's a more granular look at how to improve accounting processes without breaking what works:

Take Note of Opportunities to Improve the Accounting Process

The very first steps to improve accounting procedures should involve taking a fresh look at what your financial processes already look like. It's useful to zoom all the way out for your first look at what you'll be working with. What does close look like at the end of the month? Are there any bottlenecks or areas generating inconsistent, inaccurate or sloppy work? Significant budget expenditures that don't deliver healthy ROI?

Then, zoom in. Identify what's really going on. Are there disparate systems across business units? High employee turnover? Outdated software? Unclear procedures? 

The first few weeks of a new position always require the ability to adapt to a learning curve under an onslaught of information. With everything needing attention at once, the unfamiliarity of newness can feel like a disadvantage. Except in this case. 

Finance leaders in transition have the unique opportunity to lend a set of fresh eyes to existing, ingrained processes that have "just always been done this way." You will be able to see firsthand what percentage of time is being spent on strategic, high-level work and how much is being wasted on transactional – or worse, flawed transactional – processes.

More: Top Pain Points of Today's CFOs (And Why Outsourcing Works)

Use your "newness" to your advantage when you're taking your first look at how to improve your accounting department. It will help you take stock of what's working and what isn't.

Get Out of Your Head: Don't Ignore Documentation for Accounting Processes

When financial processes and procedures live in the heads of the people responsible for performing them, you can practically count on a bookkeeping headache down the line. Without thorough and universal documentation, mistakes are likely to be made when the person who owns the process is unavailable and those same mistakes are even likelier to slip through the cracks. Correcting them might not require breaking anything, but there's a good chance that hunting down what went wrong and where it failed will bring other aspects of your finance department to a screeching halt.

A specific, universal set of expectations and procedures can function as a sort of common language for finance departments. It makes for less painful onboarding and cross-training for new team members and a smoother implementation of ever-changing compliance standards and tax regulations. 

Build a Productive Accounting Team by Focusing on Talent

Some finance messes are made when companies brush up against growth for the first time. Sometimes these messes persist and become something of a legacy for inefficiency. What might have seemed like easy in-house numbers-crunching when employees could be counted on a single hand will rapidly become overwhelming when it's time to grow. 

Listen: [PODCAST] Why a Shortage of Accountants May be on the Horizon

Pair that with a competitive labor market for finance professionals, and you may find that you're looking at a much more tangled knot of issues than you first expected. Underqualified or overwhelmed finance teams are a symptom of this underlying cause. The latter has a nasty way of driving churn until you're focused on providing triage instead of driving strategy.

Well-trained, highly-qualified finance talent is what will ultimately make your accounting processes function – and a lack thereof can mean fixing an accounting mess before you've even had time to set up your workspace.

Make Financial Operations More Efficient with Outsourcing

Some finance leadership will put outsourcing on the table, expecting it to function solely as a cost-saving measure, and that's a perfectly valid reason to explore doing that. After all, it's not uncommon to save up to 50 percent of the resources you might typically devote to an in-house accounting and bookkeeping effort. Focusing only on costs can mean a missed opportunity, though, because the right BPO provider can offer so much more than a cheap solution in a tight labor market. 

For instance, when Personiv offers custom outsourcing solutions for our clients with Finance and Accounting needs, we are in a unique position to come to existing accounting processes from another angle entirely. We need to pair our clients with the team that will be the best fit. And because our employees have the same training and qualification as stateside CPAs, those teams can approach client accounting processes critically when they see an opportunity to streamline them, simultaneously improving accounting processes while they take those tasks off of the daily or monthly agenda. 

The benefits of partnering with a BPO that invests in its talent are all here on this list; a whole-picture view of your company's finance department before work even begins; thorough and consistent documentation that can function in-house or off-shore; and CPAs pulled from a highly trained, abundant talent pool that integrates seamlessly into your team.

All of this doesn't only result in a more streamlined, accurate and always-on-time set of accounting processes for less money. It also allows you to step into your role with a focus on strategic financial planning, which is how you'll really make your mark.

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