How automation can take the pressure off the financial close

The strain on finance directors has never been greater, but the CIO can come to the rescue

 How automation can take the pressure off the financial close

The ‘cult of overworking’ is well and truly upon us. Anyone in accounting or finance—whether it's in the hub of central London, the throws of Wall Street, or a back office elsewhere —knows that their work is never really finished and there are studies to prove it.

The UK CIMA (the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants) survey reports an average of 43 working hours per week. The results are more dramatic for high-ranking finance professionals. The 2013 members’ U.S. salary survey from CIMA reported that the average working week for CIMA members in the U.S. was 49 hours.

> See also: Poor financial close procedures cost large enterprises up to £4m

Just a few weeks ago, a survey by FD Recruit revealed that finance directors in the UK now average 50 hours per week, and rarely use all of their annual vacation time. CFOs and finance directors with a global reach report the longest average work-weeks—61 hours. This same statistic is reflected in the 2013 CIMA results for the U.S. with 41% of their members—most of them high-ranking finance officers—working as many as 60 or more hours per week.

More work, more risk

But all this extra work doesn't help businesses get ahead. Working long hours doesn’t necessarily mean that quality and productivity is guaranteed. In fact, working overtime can significantly increase the rate of mistakes and the ability for staff to perform at their highest level.

> See also: The CIO guide to keeping the CFO happy

It's not easy for a CFO or finance director to take a break. There are bonuses, competitive positioning and business integrity at stake. The pressure never seems to stop, even when financial workers are officially off. According to the FD Recruit survey: '…many are unable to switch off from work completely, with 81% saying they are almost always contactable by phone and 64% saying they take a work laptop with them.' Nevertheless, all this work can put the organisation at risk for errors and missed opportunities.

To promote high standards of efficiency and accuracy and keep a keen eye on improvement in any organisation requires constant vigilance. This is particularly evident in the complex activities surrounding the financial close. You have to watch every detail. But all of that watching takes time. It ties up staff in reviewing reports and collecting data, leaving little time for real critical analysis.

Efficiency and accuracy

So, how can finance professionals accomplish their goals without working around the clock? The trick is to find repeatable processes and automate them. That way, each task will complete with absolute consistency, speed and visibility—and you don't have to spend hours examining results and asking questions.

Automating financial close processes end-to-end makes completing hundreds—or hundreds of thousands—of repeatable tasks manageable. By removing manual activities from the financial close, you reduce the opportunity for human error and improve your visibility. In addition, you automatically document steps, which is critical for compliance and audit checks. When you use technology to break down massive projects, you transform your team of detail-watchers into real analysts. With staff freed from firefighting issues they can manage by exception and refocus on analysis.

> See also: The new CFO: a friend to IT

True process automation isn't just a planning chart for example. With process automation, organisations can build the logical steps that execute processes in the close with reliable precision. Once the right processes are automated correctly, they occur exactly the same way every time. Automating business-critical processes enables organisations to increase the value of existing information technology systems to eliminate costly and unnecessary time, effort and energy.

Today's financial process technology can free CFOs and finance directors from demanding, repetitive work. With financial close automation, there is no need to compromise on speed or quality for efficiency. You can have it all and you can even have a day off now and then.

Sourced from Dennis Walsh, president of Redwood Software Americas and Asia-Pacific

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