HomeAnalysisFour Steps in Building A Future-Facing Finance Team

Four Steps in Building A Future-Facing Finance Team

By Stéphane Baranzelli, GM & VP of Commercial Sales at Spendesk
By Stéphane Baranzelli, GM & VP of Commercial Sales at Spendesk

By Stéphane Baranzelli, GM & VP of Commercial Sales at Spendesk

The financial ecosystem is often seen as a place where the old adage ‘survival of the fittest’ rings true, and where companies are constantly trying to keep pace with changing times. So putting together a finance team that can meet new challenges and stay ‘fit’ for purpose is a must.

There are a number of forward-thinking ways of working that are fast becoming essential for success in the modern workplace. Embracing new technologies and taking a ‘people over numbers’ approach to financial management is key to cultivating a future-facing finance team.

What, then, can business leaders do to facilitate such an approach? Here are my four steps in building a finance team that is well-equipped to meet the challenges of the future.

1. Go beyond hiring for agility and adaptability

First, it should be said that it’s essential to hire individuals who are not only skilled in their respective fields but are also adaptable and agile. In today’s world, business environments can change rapidly, and finance teams must be equipped to respond to these changes in real time.

In its ‘Finance 2030: Four imperatives for the next decade’ report, management consulting company McKinsey found that finance leaders today are spending 19% more time on value-added activities (versus transaction processing) than a typical finance department did a decade ago. Therefore, it is important to identify individuals who possess the ability to think on their feet, pivot quickly, and creatively solve problems.

Business leaders can identify these qualities in potential hires by looking for candidates who have a diverse set of experiences and are comfortable working in a variety of roles. These individuals are likely to be more adaptable and flexible – which is critical – but so is a team that feels empowered and is confident in taking ownership of their role.

As financial management, you will want a team of employees to be ready for new economies; one built on mutual trust and decentralised ownership. This means that employees are trusted to do their best work without excessive management or rigid structures and are instead empowered by a flattened power structure where decision making is shared, and everyone is invested in the company’s success, making them well-suited to a future-facing finance team.

2. Embrace technology

The rise of technology has fundamentally changed the finance industry. Today, it is impossible to build a future-facing finance team without embracing the latest technological advancements like automation and artificial intelligence (AI). In fact, a Microsoft survey revealed that 82% of finance leaders found AI and automation “very important” in helping evolve their team’s role to support their company’s strategic goals.. This means investing in the right tools and software that will enable your team to work smarter, faster, and more efficiently.

One area where technology has made a significant impact is in automated spend management solutions, for example. This can be attributed to a number of factors.

First, as businesses grow and expand their operations, it becomes increasingly difficult to track and manage expenses. Spend management solutions offer a streamlined and centralised approach to managing business costs like travel spend, which can save time and improve the accuracy of reporting.

Secondly, advances in technology have made it easier to develop and deploy business spend management solutions. Cloud-based solutions, in particular, have become increasingly popular as they offer flexibility and scalability.

Unless you have been backpacking in the wilderness for the last six months, it would be hard to escape the conversation around AI, when it is clearly a hot topic this year. There are machine learning models that can speed through number crunching and interpret insights from vast volumes of data. This leaves financial teams free to execute the pressing business needs of their company, rather than being bogged down by tedious manual tasks and spreadsheets.

3. Build cross-functional partnerships

Finance teams are cross-functional by nature. Holding ultimate responsibility for managing company-wide spending and budgets, connecting to every business department is a vital part of their job. But while they understand the importance of collaborating with marketing, sales and operations teams, as well as investors, the tendency to keep interactions primarily transactional can mean opportunities to drive mutually beneficial opportunities are missed. 

Focusing on developing deeper relationships that go beyond simply checking weekly figures and sign-offs will deliver multiple mutual benefits. By gaining a better understanding of unique requirements and challenges, finance professionals will be able to work closely with each team on building more effective strategies, as well as identify opportunities to boost efficiency and growth. Much of the work to achieve this enhanced synchronicity will, of course, centre around daily engagement efforts from the finance department, but it’s crucial to note that implementing lasting changes in culture and team dynamics will depend on a clear top-down ethos lead by financial management. 

4. Rethink your employer/employee relationship

It’s all too easy to think that what the company wants as a business, the company gets. Today, there are still many businesses that operate on a take it or leave it basis, hiding behind the well-oiled phrase: “Well, that’s the job.”

There has been a huge shift in working arrangements in the past few years. The financial industry has gone from lockdowns and furlough, through the ‘Great Resignation’, to a cost-of-living crisis. Make no mistake, this has impacted on employee/employer relationships and expectations. For many employees, remote and flexible working are now essential.

A survey of UK finance professionals, conducted by YouGov and Spendesk, found that while there was widespread satisfaction with flexible working provisions, one-third of respondents would consider leaving their current job if they were forced to go back to the office full-time. These findings suggest that to maintain a forward-thinking workforce, offering greater flexibility to team members is key.

As finance leaders look to the future, they will want to be certain their businesses are ready for new challenges and not simply reactive to changes. Hiring individuals who are adaptable, empowering them to take ownership of their roles, and providing them with flexibility in their working lives, will lead to teams that are agile and better informed to make decisions.

Add to this the successful application of automation and cross-functional partnerships, and any finance leader can be confident in the knowledge they have built a super-charged, future-facing finance team.