Improving the productivity of Finance staff is essential if you want to avoid them spending all their time processing the figures. This leaves little time for both analysis and most importantly for communicating back to the business.
Here are the figures but ‘So What?
Should you be worried?
Are the figures bad?
Which areas are bad?
You can’t even get to this discussion if by the time you have processed the figures, you are 2 months behind! All eyes will now be on the latest months performance.
Producing the figures quicker without loosing accuracy, is a fundamental challenge for most Finance staff.
Here are 3 areas which you can focus on to help you improve the productivity of your Finance staff.
1. Replace Manual Processing.
It is quite common, that you have a core IT system and then your accounting system. This is more prevalent in SME’s where they do not have an ERP system.
So without an ERP system an example may look like this. A Recruitment company will have a core IT system which manages bookings and payroll and the data from this, then needs to be entered into the Accounting system like Sage or XERO.
Of course, this leads to time consuming manual processing as we enter the data generated in the Core System, into the accounting system. Most finance staff will be aware of this task, but not sure what to do about it.
Firstly, look at the task in hand and ask yourself, can this be simplified? For example, remember, if you have a core IT system which holds all the detailed data, do you really need to replicate all this data in your accounting system? Can the detail when required be sourced from the Core IT database? Then only the summary data. which makes up the Accounting reports, needs to be loaded into the Accounting software.
The most common gripe I hear from small businesses in this area is
"Why do I have to enter my Sales Invoicing twice!"
The invoice is raised firstly in the Core system to send to the customer. This core system could be a CRM system or bookings system.
Then copies of the invoices generated from this system need to be used to enter the same data into the accounting software.
If you use Sage, unfortunately uploading the invoices is less than efficient, it does not allow for where you need to code separate lines to different areas. XERO however has overcome this problem and manages this task very well. In fact, it is simple to take a csv file from your core system and put it into a template in XERO and immediately upload this into XERO. Bingo! It takes about 10 mins to prepare, 2 mins to upload and 10 minutes to check and review.
Compare that against the time of manually creating invoices on the accounting system and the time savings are frankly startling.
So, what else can you download in a CSV format and upload rather than manually input?
2. Standardise your Month End Processes.
When you repeat the same task over and over again, guess what happens? Yes, you get faster and better at it! So what processes can you standardise so it requires less thinking and allows you to build up speed in the carrying out the task?
The trick is to understand where the base data comes from, and to be able to set up a spreadsheet which collects the data in the front tab. Then create a second tab which automatically reformats the front tab using VLOOKUP’s and formulas that only pull through the specific data you need.
If you want to understand more about VLOOKUP, here is a link to a very good video on YouTube.
The time invested in setting up these types of spreadsheets, will bear fruit when you realise
“The task that has been taking you 3 hours every month, now only take 30 mins every month”
Now, it is just a matter of pasting in the monthly source data into the top sheet and all the figures are pulled out in the second tab in the exact way you need them.
Here are some areas I commonly standardise when I take over the month end processing management for small businesses.
Prepare templates for standard Month end repeating journals and Reports like:
- Deferred Income
- Vat calculations
- Labour analysis
- Bespoke margin analysis by product, service or any way you want it!
3. Reduce Errors by using Control Checks
One of the biggest time wasters in the Finance department is having to correct errors. Having to rework previous entries in the accounting system or even try to figure out how to correct mis postings and errors, can be time consuming. This will be especially time consuming when your accounting software does not allow for an easy correcting action to be made.
To eliminate errors, we must understand why the errors took place in the first place. Standardising entries as in point 2 above should ensure that we replicate correct postings by ensuring the same calculation is performed consistently month on month
Another check is to include control checks in your postings.
Always check before and after you make the posting that the resulting entries have had the impact on the ledger you expect.
Where you have handed over posting tasks to lower level staff, ensure that you incorporate control check totals into spreadsheets or journals and you show them how to check that they have posted correctly.
Of course, ensuring that you reconcile your balance sheet accounts monthly will also reduce the time it takes to correct errors. This however does not eliminate the errors unless you truly get to the bottom of why the entry was mis posted in the first place. You need to design a process to ensure it become fool proof. e.g. Use prepopulated journal vouchers with set nominal codes or fields that only allow for certain numeric.
Process Improvement is the way to Increase the productivity of Finance Staff
This is just the tip of the iceberg but should get you thinking in a process improvement way to help you improve the productivity of your finance staff,
But at the end of the day, Why bother?
Well for a business owner, I am sure you really are not interested in the processing of the figures. What you want is the information in a format that helps you to make the decisions and take the actions you need to take, to improve your performance.
For a Finance Manager or someone who manages the Finance Staff, you will be tasked with gathering the data. You are not judged on the number of reports or even the speed of generating the reports. NO, it will be the benefit you can bring about by having the meaningful discussion with the Management to influence, suggest and advise them on how and where to improve business performance.
The challenge is twofold; firstly, identify the improvement area, then find the time to implement these improvements.