This article originally appeared in The Sunday Times. It's a 5-minute read.
In an age of disruption, technology is freeing up finance teams to focus on what really matters. Gabriella Griffith takes a closer look.
From mock trials—where students examine the judicial system—to programmes for primary school children to explore and solve community issues, Young Citizens is a charity working hard to create the next generation of activists. But for many third-sector organisations like this one, budgets are tight and the back-end operations that keep the mission going are often underfunded.
“When funding is provided to our sector, only very fixed amounts are supposed to go to overhead functions like Finance,” says Ray Ayivor, director of finance and operations at Young Citizens. “We often find ourselves scraping the barrel for budget. People in my position have to get very creative. That is where technology comes in.”
Ayivor has been considering the role that automation can play in the finance department for a number of years, but during the pandemic, he decided to make the leap.
“We do a lot of trading through our websites, which used to be processed manually,” he says. “We integrated this with our accounting systems to automate that processing. We also enhanced our reporting to make it fully automated, with coordination between different feeds—and our external partners—enabling our audit to be carried out remotely.”
The charity, which accepts online donations, is already seeing the benefit.
“It’s enabled me to handle what is quite an extensive operation at very minimum costs. If you look at the trading we do on our website—high volume, low value trading—it is a lot to process manually. This new system does it for me. It enables me to tap into existing admin capacity from across the business, not just finance professionals, because the system is easy to understand.”
It has also taken the headache out of robust reporting. “Without the delivery of high-speed, high-quality reports, we could find ourselves in a position where we lose funding. I’ve been able to keep all stakeholders happy with the speed and quality of the reports I produce at the touch of a button.
“Our resources are limited, so we need to make what we do have go as far as possible. The most effective way of doing that is using relevant technology. I think that’s the future of finance.”
With the right partner on board, Ayivor says the move to automation itself wasn’t an issue. It was persuading people to do it in the first place.
“The biggest challenge was getting other people to see its potential,” he says. “Often when you’re the one out there looking for information, attending seminars, getting an idea of what’s possible, the rest of your management team isn’t on that journey with you. To get them to explore new ways of working and let go of certain practices, you really have to communicate it in a way they understand.”
The coronavirus crisis was certainly the push his wider team needed to embrace a fully automated system. “I started exploring automated accounting before the pandemic, but the fallout and the new world of work really emphasised to me that I was on the right path—and my use of technology accelerated,” says Ayivor. “It also made it clear to all our stakeholders that this was the right way to go. If we have to work remotely without this kind of technology, suddenly we’re grinding to a halt.”
Empowering Finance Teams with BlackLine
The days when business leaders could wait until the end of the month to get their financial figures are over. To stay ahead of the game, they need agile, real-time information. The pandemic has brought this into sharp focus, says David Brightman, a product marketing director at BlackLine.
“We’ve never met a chief financial officer that doesn’t want the numbers faster. But with market conditions so volatile, you can’t sustain your operating environment by getting numbers late. An agile, automated finance environment delivers the figures quickly so businesses can make informed decisions.”
BlackLine automates complex, manual, and repetitive accounting processes, enabling companies to move beyond the legacy record-to-report process. It unifies data across a business, bringing disparate sets across different systems together to give the overall view of business performance.
The traditional accounting world of spreadsheets is not only far more complex and slower, it keeps finance teams bogged down in repetitive manual processes instead of thinking strategically about the future of a business.
“Automated accounting enables our customers to focus on what’s important,” says Brightman. “If they’re not doing the manual, repetitive reconciliations or other activities, they can look at what’s outstanding. These exceptions are what’s really important and enable a finance team to become more strategic, not just scorekeepers.”
‘Automation helps remove risk,’ says David Brightman
With more time on their hands, finance teams will be empowered to become better business partners. “They can tell the business why it’s where it is – and where it should go,” says Brightman. An automated environment also eliminates the element of surprise in reporting. “If auditors detect issues in financials that require adjustments, this can be surprising and could cause reputational damage. By automating as much as you can, you have a dashboard with the daily cadence of how things are going and you can flag issues before they become big problems.”
This is technology that could benefit any kind of business, says Brightman. “No matter who you are, big or small, or what goods and services you sell, you need to close the books. Automation helps remove risk and gives you the insight you need to grow.”
Whatever your size or industry, find out how BlackLine can transform your business today.