Excel Spreadsheets – Do They Still Have a Place in The Finance Department?

From Excel to excellence for the month-end close reconciliation process.

As a financial accounting professional, it is almost certain you will have been using Microsoft Excel spreadsheets during the month end close process. It is also extremely likely you will have experienced problems with them too!

Over the last thirty-odd years, spreadsheets have become a mainstay in finance departments, used for all sorts of tasks, from reconciliation to reporting and everything in between. Despite their popularity with finance staff, they still pose a massive margin for error. The expected error rate when reconciling with spreadsheets is 0.8-1.8% and though this may seem small, for a company with a $1m turnover this represents a risk of $80,000-$180,000.

What’s more, the damage done can also affect public perception and trust in your brand, leading to less tangible but just as dangerous losses.

Is it possible to move away from spreadsheets?

For smaller businesses, the number of accounts needing to be reconciled is relatively small, so it makes sense for smaller businesses to continue using a combination of spreadsheets and QuickBooks. In turn, the team that manages the financial close process will also be relatively small, perhaps just one or two finance staff, so there is also less room for data handling errors.

However, as the number of accounts to reconcile grows and the team managing your monthly close process is expanded, errors can easily worm their way in to the reconciliation process. Once a business has grown, it makes sense to move away from Excel spreadsheets and QuickBooks, particularly for tasks like reconciling. At its capacity, the finance department of a large organisation can generate up to five hundred spreadsheets a month – so it’s easy to see how errors and duplications can creep in.

Will the finance department ever rid themselves of Excel spreadsheets completely?

It seems unlikely that Excel spreadsheets will disappear from the finance department completely; admittedly, they are still a really useful tool for auditing, even for very large businesses (of 1,000+ headcounts) and they will probably remain the go-to program of choice for creating graphs and charts.

However, businesses that are managing to grow and are serious about both productivity and regulatory compliance will likely move their reconciliation and monthly close process to specialist programs, as opposed to makeshift spreadsheets. Especially as the need for advanced reporting and intuitive financial analysis expands beyond the capabilities of Excel.

Businesses who are serious about both productivity and regulatory compliance should look to specialist reconciliation software packages from Adramatch

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Learn How Your Finance Department Can Inspire Growth

Almost all departments within all companies have an untapped ‘cognitive surplus’. A ‘cognitive surplus’ is the difference between the specific tasks an employee is assigned to do and what they actually are capable of doing – the actual versus the potential work.

It seems obvious, but to tap into it the ‘Cognitive Surplus’ can make a huge difference.

Companies such as 3M, Dell and Google have all implemented what is called ‘20% time’ or ‘innovation time’ – one day of their working week, dedicated to whatever projects they like… provided it benefits the company in some way.

Does it pay off?

One might wonder: Does it pay off? Well, at Google this has resulted in successful projects such as Gmail, Google News and AdSense, and according to ex-employee, Marissa Mayer, as many as half of Google innovations are a result of ‘20% time’.

But, while this approach might be considered something market leaders can utilise, many finance departments perceive they barely have the time to complete all the necessary work at present, never mind crafting new and innovative ideas, supporting procedures that aid business growth.

Yet finance departments really do need this ‘innovation time’.

In this slow and sometimes contracting economy, the next two years will be critical for businesses. It will fall largely on finance departments to walk the thin line between productive spending and managing a dwindling pool of resources. Additionally, with a host of new financial regulations coming into place in this two-year period, financial departments will be instrumental in helping businesses to remain compliant without losing their current standing.

This extra pressure and workload will make it difficult for finance to inspire new talent whilst holding on to the employees they already have. Finance professionals require stimulating challenges without being overloaded with extra work – they need ‘20% time’ to effectively tap-in to their expertise, and not have their time consumed by lengthy, repetitive tasks – that can be automated.

How to make time for tapping into ‘Cognitive Surplus’ in the finance department

One way in which businesses can help free up some of their finance department’s time to complete tasks, is by automating the tedious and time-consuming tasks that turn prospective talent off finance work. Reconciliation is one such set of tasks that finance professionals find particularly tiresome and time consuming. Fortunately it is now possible to automate account reconciliation, processing hundreds of thousands of transactions in just minutes rather than hours or potentially days.

While significantly reducing reconciliation errors, automation also frees up large chunks of time that could be dedicated to maintaining compliance, providing strategic insight in this tough economy.

This additional time could even become the rarely considered ‘innovation time’ your business needs to inspire growth and stay competitive.

To find out more about automatic data matching and automated reconciliation software that helps your company to streamline and free-up time get in touch today to get a tailored answer to your data matching questions around maximising productivity in the finance department.

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How to Evaluate Your Finance Department

Nobody knows your business better than you do. After all, you are the CEO. You know what the engineers do; you know what the production managers do; and nobody understands the sales process better than you. You know who is carrying their weight and who isn’t. That is, unless we’re talking about the finance and accounting managers.

Most CEO’s, especially in small and mid-size enterprises, come from operational or sales backgrounds. They have often gained some knowledge of finance and accounting through their careers, but only to the extent necessary. But as the CEO, they must make judgments about the performance and competence of the accountants as well as the operations and sales managers.

So, how does the diligent CEO evaluate the finance and accounting functions in his company? All too often, the CEO assigns a qualitative value based on the quantitative message. In other words, if the Controller delivers a positive, upbeat financial report, the CEO will have positive feelings toward the Controller. And if the Controller delivers a bleak message, the CEO will have a negative reaction to the person. Unfortunately, “shooting the messenger” is not at all uncommon.

The dangers inherent in this approach should be obvious. The Controller (or CFO, bookkeeper, whoever) may realize that in order to protect their career, they need to make the numbers look better than they really are, or they need to draw attention away from negative matters and focus on positive matters. This raises the probability that important issues won’t get the attention they deserve. It also raises the probability that good people will be lost for the wrong reasons.

The CEO’s of large public companies have a big advantage when it comes to evaluating the performance of the finance department. They have the audit committee of the board of directors, the auditors, the SEC, Wall Street analyst and public shareholders giving them feedback. In smaller businesses, however, CEO’s need to develop their own methods and processes for evaluating the performance of their financial managers.

Here are a few suggestions for the small business CEO:

Timely and Accurate Financial Reports

Chances are that at some point in your career, you have been advised that you should insist on “timely and accurate” financial reports from your accounting group. Unfortunately, you are probably a very good judge of what is timely, but you may not be nearly as good a judge of what is accurate. Certainly, you don’t have the time to test the recording of transactions and to verify the accuracy of reports, but there are some things that you can and should do.

Insist that financial reports include comparisons over a number of periods. This will allow you to judge the consistency of recording and reporting transactions.
Make sure that all anomalies are explained.
Recurring expenses such as rents and utilities should be reported in the appropriate period. An explanation that – “there are two rents in April because we paid May early” – is unacceptable. The May rent should be reported as a May expense.
Occasionally, ask to be reminded about the company’s policies for recording revenues, capitalizing costs, etc.

Beyond Monthly Financial Reports

You should expect to get information from your accounting and finance groups on a daily basis, not just when monthly financial reports are due. Some good examples are:

Daily cash balance reports.
Accounts receivable collection updates.
Cash flow forecasts (cash requirements)
Significant or unusual transactions.

Consistent Work Habits

We’ve all known people who took it easy for weeks, then pulled an all-nighter to meet a deadline. Such inconsistent work habits are strong indicators that the individual is not attentive to processes. It also sharply raises the probability of errors in the frantic last-minute activities.

Willingness to Be Controversial

As the CEO, you need to make it very clear to the finance/accounting managers that you expect frank and honest information and that they will not be victims of “shoot the messenger” thinking. Once that assurance is given, your financial managers should be an integral part of your company’s management team. They should not be reluctant to express their opinions and concerns to you or to other department leaders.

We created Finance For Business Owners to help business owners, CEOs and other non-financial managers gain a better perspective and understanding of the financial side of the business. With our affiliate, The Fidelis Consulting Group, we created a series of 10 – 15 minute presentations and short articles to help business leaders have a better understanding of financial issues and to incorporate that understanding into their daily operations and strategic planning. Visit us at http://financeforbusinessowners.subhub.com

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Is Your Finance Department Fighting Fit? You May Need an Accounts Reconciliation Healthcheck

As a finance director you may not be fully aware, but your finance department could also be a part of the overwhelming majority that are concealing an illness. The question you need to raise is your account reconciliation process fighting fit? A reconciliation medical exam will dramatically improve your finance department’s processes and will deliver additional worth and help facilitate to drive down costs. In line with a recent finance survey, only 8% of financial accounting employees are actually happy with their monthly close process. This implies that a large 92% of finance workers assume that it is time to call in the doctor as their financial close procedure is sick. The simplest way to help establish all of the potential issues within finance department is to carry out a reconciliation medical exam.

There are 3 main advantages of an efficient account reconciliation strategy that need to be considered: reduced operational costs, mitigated risk, and the tightest attainable compliance. Each account reconciliation method ought to give clear visibility over key financial information to bring these advantages – nevertheless however in line with a recent financial survey; only 8% of senior finance employees are happy with the visibility of key financial information.

Stages of the reconciliation lifecycle

There are four major stages to a reconciliation lifecycle:

1. Data import and enrichment.

2. Matching.

3. Exception management.

4. Reconciliation.

In order to produce the complete advantages of the account reconciliation process every stage should be in good health: optimised to be sturdy nevertheless agile, and standardised across your entire business. However, with 46% of finance employees using a shared spreadsheet solution to achieve a summary of all their data, their ledgers, to achieve the level of standardised reconciliation required for a really great reconciliation process may be a tall order indeed.

Checking the health of each stage

A health check of every stage of your reconciliation lifecycle should not be a large challenge. You need to possess an honest appraisal of where your department presently sits and wherever you wish to be.

1. Import and enrichment – This initiative is crucial in standardising your data. Enriching your knowledge upon import is much more efficient than doing it ad-hoc, reducing the price of your reconciliation process and limiting the chance of errors later on.

Health risks: the data import and enrichment method could also be let down by the usage of spreadsheets – thus if you’re still using them as an accounting cure, stop! They provide unsecure following or segregation of duties, no automation of enrichment and they do not preserve the initial details of the account. Not to mention the potential problems that arise from sharing spreadsheets- Sharing a finance spreadsheet is extraordinarily risky especially when it involves the health of your reconciliation. It is not always possible to inform you who has used the spreadsheet, have their changes documented and spot any errors that are created. Despite this risk, over half of all finance departments still share finance spreadsheets to organise their reconciliation.

Prescription: Specialist accounting software packages are much quicker, more accurate and helps guarantee compliance – paying for itself in the reduction of cost to your department.

2. Matching – Matching financial data is the core of your reconciliation process and also the one that consumes the most amount of time. While comparatively easy, the task is horrendously mundane for any accounting employees.

Health risks: Its very nature implies that manual data matching will prove to be the most error prone stage of the reconciliation method. Providing that a quarter of finance employees have no second authority or approver, this might mean that mistakes aren’t detected before filing.

Prescription: automated transaction and data matching software solutions cuts out around 98% of the manual work, serving to minimise errors. An enhanced automation software solution can even progress the reconciliation lifecycle forward for you and make sure that there is continually a second authority before figures may be signed-off.

3. Exception management – to create the most effective use of your time you want to be able to prioritize the unmatched exceptions in your ledgers.

Health risks: whereas exception management ought to cut back operational costs, sloppy budgets, input errors and also the increased activity for the managerial team will mean that costs grow much higher. This might be somewhat relieved by a less centralised method, permitting employees to tackle exceptions at source rather than add an additional method in later.

Prescription: automated account reconciliation software may be tailored to manage exceptions, which can help by dramatically reducing time, cost and error rate.

4. Reconciliation – The part where you get to play detective. Why don’t these amounts match: It might or might not be an error, underpayment or even perhaps fraud? Reconciling mismatched figures provides finance employees plenty additional information to get their teeth into; however the method remains vulnerable to health issues.

Health risks: one of the largest reconciliation health risks is that the overreliance on paper for archiving. When reconciling items, it’s typically necessary to trace back through all of the previous monthly close reports, as well as ledger entries and bank statements. However, 64% of finance employees still at least, in some way rely, on binders and paper to archive their financial close results.

Prescription: as well as being far more secure, digital archives can also be much easier to look through than paper archived financial data for the required information. Digitised financial archives create the reconciliation process faster, easier additionally as helping you keep compliant with things like eDiscovery requests.

Overall, the reconciliation lifecycle is an important method for the finance department, however for many people there is still an abundance of enhancements that are required to be carried out. The health risks exposed to your finance department’s reporting, issues with governance, risk and compliance and threats to your future financial position are all over the place. It is necessary for Finance directors and CFOs to make sure that their reconciliation process is in great health. A healthy finance reconciliation helps maintain correct and up-to-date general ledger data by comparing it to details noted within the subsidiary ledger for every account.

Poor reconciliation will result in cancerous late payment penalties, unnoticed liabilities, and missed vendor discounts. For these reasons each finance department ought to perform a daily self-examination, or internal audit frequently.

However, if you are seeking for the magic pill which will alleviate all of your woes then you ought to take a look at an enhanced balance sheet reconciliation software package. This type of accounting and reporting software package automates giant chunks of the reconciliation lifecycle, delivering multiple prescriptions quickly.

For help streamlining your finance department processes Adarmatch offer a wide range of account reconciliation software solutions and services to help boot your finance departments performance.

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Drive Growth Through Innovation in Your Finance Department

Cognitive surplus has been recently proven to be a gold mine for a collection of different departments. Don’t you think it’s about time you learnt to benefit from this within your finance department as well?

Go beyond the apparent and obvious
All of the typical financial processes that most companies will utilise to drive growth are fairly obvious these include: cutting into the bottom line, maximizing revenues at the top line, and calculating the return on investment (ROI) for any new investment opportunities.

But if you can make ‘innovation time’, in conjunction with financial analysis, you will find that you are given a chance to look at less traditional levers to drive growth within your department.

Not a very exciting task
Ensuring that you are given real time away from the stress of daily tasks will eventually prove to be an invaluable exercise. Real time allows you and your department time to reflect and allow you analyse the performance of your finance department within the past versus the demands, your deliveries and performance of today. By reaching into and exploring your cognitive surplus, you and your colleagues could discover areas that are limiting, and which could limit your financial performance tomorrow. By taken a look at these limits you and your department can explore alternative solutions to help drive growth and increase the overall innovation of your company.

With your financial performance analysis in situ and a collection of innovative ideas in hand you’ll be able to better forecast and set up departmental budgets, whilst providing a firm foundation from which you are able to review any innovative concepts to vary the business structure serving to help alter the performance/cost ratio in a positive direction.

Want a push towards the right direction
Want a sensible push towards the right direction, which will help you greatly improve the performance of your finance department?

You probably have an identical gut feeling that was brought to our consciousness by an accounting survey of the financial close process: only 28 % finance employees trust the reported numbers within the month end financial close making historical account analysis an even more arduous task.

Financial Reconciliation software can make the whole financial close process quicker and more economical by the complete integration of automatic account reconciliation with automated approval workflows. With the utilization of summary dashboards, account reconciliation software makes strict compliance the quality standard for your team, whilst at the same time executives are often accurately kept within the loop with drill-down reports at the press of a button.

You can conjointly do away with binders and build your historical analysis faster and easier with a completely digital archive. Although storing all monthly close reports in binders may provide that old-fashioned feel of security, however that feeling can be misleading. Using binders to archive can in the long run prove more of a hindrance than a help. Problems that can arise are:
Which binder is all the information archived in? This issue can further be compounded with the problem of physical space required to store all of your company binders.

Where in the binder is it? Generally binders over time become too hefty to go through. So whether you’re working with binders or spreadsheets maintaining that control and overview are a top priority. At any moment, you need to have all documentation in place and to understand the status of every person and every task. Financial Reconciliation software can help you to streamline and digitize your monthly financial close process. Whilst allowing you to replace cumbersome spreadsheets and full binders with an up-to-date real-time overview of the entire balance sheet reconciliation process.

Taking all of the above into account what’s more, due to all of these efficiencies financial reconciliation software will actually help you facilitate to make ‘innovation time’ within the financial department, serving to create a virtuous cycle of enhancements and innovations with in your department.

With all of these helpful features and more it isn’t hard to ascertain how using financial reconciliation software will greatly utilise your cognitive surplus and help streamline your finance department helping your business grow.

Help drive innovation in your finance department with the help of Adramatch, Adramatch provide accounting and financial reconciliation software to help boost your finance department.

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