8 min read
We’ve said it before - even the best finance teams fall prey to killer mistakes. What truly separates the elite finance function from the pack is the ability to identify flaws and fix them. Fortunately for you, by reading this post you’re already halfway there!
Let me throw a few terms at you - invoice processing, expensing, bank reconciliation, tax, management accounting, credit control. How much time do you think your finance team is wasting on these? Research by RBS Invoice Finance has shown that small businesses alone waste an average of 130 hours per year just on credit control. Are you medium-sized? Scale that figure up. Now multiply across the other five areas. The true time-cost to your finance team could be huge.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Thankfully, we’re living in the dawn of a fintech golden age. A bevy of incredible tools and software to automate these tasks are only a few clicks away.
In this post we throw back to 5 Tasks Your Finance Team Should Be Automating By Now and round up the best-in-class solutions. Check these out ASAP - without them, not only are you inhibiting your capability, you’re wasting your resources in doing so.
Don’t underestimate your cloud accounting system
Let’s quickly talk bank reconciliation and tax. In terms of apps, there’s not a whole lot out there right now. A great cloud accounting system, however, has a few handy tricks up its sleeve. At Chaser, we integrate with Xero.
Within Xero, previously time-consuming and error-prone manual bank reconciliation becomes a cinch. Using bank feeds, you can have your account transactions automatically imported into Xero. Combine this with their bank reconciliation functionality and you can save yourself from hours of error-prone admin work. Not only does Xero automatically notify you when bank reconciliation is ready, account transactions which don’t match any transactions in Xero can have Xero transactions automatically created based on your own customisable ruleset. One quick run-through and approval of the automatic bank reconciliation is all that’s needed by your finance team. Goodbye time-waster!
How about tax? A huge time-saver offered by Xero is the ability to file sales tax returns in-app, depending on your region. That’s a previously-hour-long task done in two minutes! Xero can also offer the ability to set tax rates, set defaults for your sales and purchases, see payments to and refunds from your tax authority, and run reports, amongst other features. Having this handled automatically means less brain space wasted by a mental checklist, as well as a few less points of potential error. Hopefully there are only a minority of you out there, but finance teams not already taking advantage of this are at risk of being dangerously behind the times. Take this as a sign to jump into your cloud accounting system’s documentation and learn what you can automate.
Automate your purchase ledger
Whether it’s purchasing or expensing, your business’ buying processes can be automated.
Time spent checking invoices and manually entering data into your general ledger is now considered a waste with the tools available today. Apps like Entryless and AutoEntry use optical character recognition (OCR) technology to intelligently analyse invoices or bills, automatically updating your general ledger. Going beyond just invoice totals, these apps can identify details such as tax amounts, line item details, sub-totals, unit prices, and quantities. Advanced algorithms ensure your accounting system never processes invoices that aren’t correct. Taking you all the way through to electronic payment and invoice closure, these apps let you assign tracking categories, job codes, costs centres, and more, as necessary. Unburden your finance team from all this admin work by automating it. Not only are your team inherently slower and more error-prone than the technology, their talents are wasted being tied up here.
For all things expensing, Expensify and Receipt Bank brings the same powerful one-two punch of OCR technology and intelligent analysis that we’ve seen in purchasing. It’s as easy as snapping pictures of your receipts - that’s as involved as expensing needs to be in an elite finance function. After an image of the receipt is fed into these apps, it’s analysed and auto-submitted as an expense, and pushed into any approval workflows needed. Your receipts are securely cloud-stored so you don’t have to hold onto the paper, and the data is synced with your cloud accounting system for visibility, and to ensure audits and tax-time are simple. Smartphone, photograph, toss the receipt, click to approve - how does processing an expense in a minute sound?
If your processes for handling purchase orders or bills are riddled with approval workflows, you’d be crazy not to automate them. Thankfully, ApprovalMax brings an extremely easy and highly intuitive solution to the table for handling multi-step approval. Managers can set up visual workflows and approval matrices in their web browser, while approvers can just sit back and wait until the intelligent approval requests pop-up in-app or in their inbox. Available for iPhone and Android in addition to web app, ApprovalMax offers powerful oversight and incredible efficiency for your approval processes. It’s time to ditch slow, unreliable paper approval and switch lanes into an elite finance function.
Automate your sales ledger
Let’s get into the more exciting stuff - selling. Making the sale is great, it’s just a shame collecting the payment can be so troublesome (when selling on payment terms, anyhow). Mitigating this problem is absolutely imperative. Nearly 40% of SMEs surveyed by Amicus Commercial Finance had been undermined by cashflow problems within the previous two years, being unable to pay suppliers, meet debt repayments, buy inventory, pay staff, access new finance, or even win new contracts.
If you want an elite finance function, you need amazing credit control. But gone are the days of the time-consuming, error-prone juggling of manual emails, jotted notes, and phone calls. Now you can automate. If you’re at the smaller end of SME, Xero (and quite possibly any alternative you might use) has its own in-built invoice reminder functionality - perfect for businesses dealing in the ballpark of 10-20 invoices per month. Businesses beyond this scale who require a more sophisticated solution can use Chaser. Normally we’d prefer to keep our advice and recommendations in this blog Chaser-free, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t recommend ourselves for best-in-class credit control automation - if we didn’t believe it, we wouldn’t be here. Our rich suite of features includes extensive customisation for invoice templates and chasing schedules, consolidated invoice communications histories, and our signature automated humanity.
For those of you who sell via direct debit, firstly, congratulations. Many of the headaches of credit control, such as invoice-chasing and bad debts, can be avoided by selling via direct debit. Unfortunately, not all products and services are suited to it. If you’re one of the lucky ones who can sell via direct debit, GoCardless offers an incredible service to facilitate it. It allows custom, advanced payment flows to automate the processes of re-tries, refunds, and subscriptions. On top of that, real time payment data enables more intelligent customer interactions, and you can stay a step ahead of churn and offer swift issue resolution with instant notifications of failed or cancelled payments.
If you’re offering your customers card payments, Stripe is a powerful and flexible payment gateway. They accept all major cards worldwide, integrate with websites and mobile apps, allow completely custom payment forms (as well as the convenience of a premade one), and offer storage of payment details for single-click future payments, amongst other features. Their focus on quick setup and usability means less time spent fiddling, allowing your business to take card payments effortlessly. Take it from us - we use Stripe ourselves!
Automate management information
Perhaps less exciting than selling, but undoubtedly of critical importance to your organisation, is reporting. Forecasting, budgeting, management accounting - tasks that are classically as time-consuming, finicky, and error-prone as they are important. If your finance team is still juggling spreadsheets and other documents to handle these, I’ve got some bad news - you’re stuck in the dark ages and the outlook is bleak. Fantastically, I’ve also got some amazing news - you have so much to gain from the apps in this section.
FUTRLI is an incredibly powerful forecasting and reporting app, offering customisable reporting and KPI dashboards, rapid scenario planning, auto-updating budgeting, three-way cashflow forecasting, and automated alerts to let you know when to celebrate milestones and when to mitigate upcoming risks.
Spotlight Reporting is another, award-winning reporting app, designed by accountants for accountants. Their reporting customisation is unmatched, also offering pre-populating executive summaries to save you time. Their forecasting tool offers all-in-one budget creation, three-way forecasting, and scenario building. Both of these areas are topped off with an incredibly usable and intuitive dashboard creator, so you can get a completely holistic view of performance with minimal effort. They also offer an aggregation, ranking, and benchmarking tool for franchises, not-for-profits, and industry specialists.
If you want to do away with needlessly complex business intelligence tools and use something that is as easily useable as it is powerful, try Fathom for your management reporting and financial analysis. Profitability, cashflow, growth, and any number of infinitely customisable KPIs are right at your fingertips for in-depth analysis, and whipping up a beautiful, presentation-ready report is a cinch.
If you’re a fan of the Microsoft suite of software, they also have a foot in the reporting game with Microsoft Power BI. They offer quick and easy data source integration, rapid reporting (with a five-minute promise), web- and phone-accessible dashboards for when you’re on the go, and on top of that Gartner has recognised them as a leader in the Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence and Analytics.
If a major concern of yours is cashflow specifically, Float are the specialists. Integrating with your cloud accounting system and pulling in data automatically, you don’t have to spend another minute reconciling historic information. Do away with hours spent forecasting in spreadsheets, and move over to Float. It’s incredibly smooth and intuitive to use.
Bank reconciliation and tax | Your cloud accounting system
Purchasing | Entryless, AutoEntry
Expensing | Expensify, Receipt Bank
Approval workflows | ApprovalMax
Credit control | Your cloud accounting system, Chaser
Direct debit | GoCardless
Card payments | Stripe
Reporting | FUTRLI, Spotlight Reporting, Fathom, Microsoft Power BI
Cashflow forecasting | Float
So, what are you using?
If you're using an app you're surprised didn't make the cut, let us know! My ears are always open at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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