Business Basics
Optimizing finance functions: 5 steps to a streamlined finance department

Optimizing finance functions: 5 steps to a streamlined finance department

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As companies adjust to new ways of working while continuing to pursue higher revenues, finance departments are under increased pressure to handle more payments and invoices in less time, with fewer resources. Staffing shortages and difficulties retaining top talent only make it harder for accounting professionals to keep pace with new demands.

Optimizing your company’s finance functions can save time without overtaxing employees or reducing their capacity for work. Employee turnover and fraud risks will both decline, while agility and growth potential will increase exponentially. These five steps explain how to optimize finance functions for a better back office.

1. Create a seamless onboarding experience for new finance hires

Whether new hires are recent college graduates or veteran finance professionals, an onboarding plan helps ease the transition and reduce stress for other employees. Good plans typically include the following:

  • Individualized welcome messages from the company and supervisors
  • A clear outline of roles and responsibilities within the finance department
  • A plan for their first 30, 60, and 90 days
  • Straightforward processes for sharing and collecting paperwork
  • Technology and software orientations
  • “Cheat sheets” with new hire–specific FAQs

A thoughtful onboarding plan developed well in advance of a new hire’s first days can make the difference between an engaged finance team and a high turnover rate. Onboarding also gives you a chance  to identify potential problems early  and proactively address them.

2. Determine your baseline

Before making any changes, it is important to establish where your finance department currently stands. This involves analyzing how many invoices are processed per month, how many hours are spent on payroll, and how work is divided among employees. Keep in mind that workloads may vary depending on financial reporting schedules and other factors. To get the most accurate picture of average outputs, review at least a year’s worth of activities.

The figures pulled from an output analysis can be used to guide planning and growth projections. Depending on a company’s goals, these figures may help determine whether additional staff are needed to manage increased activity. The data can also be used as a benchmark for measuring future performance.

3. Automate whenever possible

Automation capabilities have advanced substantially in the past decade, and that is good news—shifting from manual  to automated processes saves time and allows employees to focus on more strategic tasks that drive faster growth and enable higher quality services. For example, accounts payable (AP) automation seamlessly enforces workflows to ensure bills are digitally reviewed, approved, and paid. Now is the time to upgrade your finance department with automated programs to keep up with a rapidly changing world.

4. Explore integrations to reduce duplicated efforts

Connecting software within your financial stack allows information to flow freely through your financial systems in real time and eliminates the need to manually enter the same data twice. Linking accounting systems or enterprise resource planning (ERP) programs with payroll and AP systems, for instance, can save hours each month. This makes it easy to track each step of your financial processes and avoid duplicate payments, overpayments, or other errors.

Start by reviewing your finance department’s current processes to identify where manual steps are still being used. From there, research solutions that automate these processes and integrate with your existing systems to lighten the lift. It takes time to find and implement the right solutions, but this initial investment will pay off in the long run.

5. Eliminate the weakest links

While automation and integration can eliminate most inefficiencies, it is worth digging deeper to root out any lingering weak links and bottlenecks. One approach is to have employees calculate the amount of time they spend on their daily activities, establish reasonable time quotas for each activity, and then brainstorm ways to stick to them. Keep in mind that even easy wins are worth celebrating since a few minutes each day adds up over time.

Optimizing finance functions is an ongoing project—reviewing outputs and automation software solutions at least once a year can keep your company’s wheels turning smoothly while ensuring employees remain happy. The five steps above can set the process in motion and streamline your finance department for increased efficiency.

See how BILL can help you optimize finance functions for a better back office.

The information provided on this page does not, and is not intended to constitute legal or financial advice and is for general informational purposes only. The content is provided "as-is"; no representations are made that the content is error free.