Bean counter to strategic advisor: How to get more value out of your finance team

Your start-up could be missing a trick if you haven't made finance a true business partner. Here's how you can you use finance to inform your business

Finance is traditionally seen as a backward-facing compliance-focused function but there are opportunities for your accountants to provide a key role in advising across your business.

Start-ups can tap into these skills with a modern cloud-based finance system that automates many processes and frees up the finance team to provide more strategic advice and support.

As a primarily back office function, finance can often remain isolated and disconnected from the rest of the business.

And that’s particularly true in fast-moving start-ups where the focus is understandably on commercial front office teams getting out there and growing the business.

But, for start-ups, that kind of structure is missing a trick.

How to foster collaboration between business and finance

The ability of the finance team to collate, audit and produce information means they are perfectly placed to help the rest of the business receive timely and accurate information. And more importantly, to understand and act upon it.

This is particularly critical in a start-up where the focus is on making sales, generating cash flow, developing products and expanding market reach.

A clear understanding of the financial implications of strategic and operational decisions is vital to the success of the company.

Of course, there needs to be a change of culture to embrace this approach of finance as a business partner.

Finance functions have traditionally focused on gathering historic information, then auditing and verifying this data for use in either management and financial reporting, or to pay tax and payroll. This often creates a compliance-focused and backwards-facing department.

However, as with most staff in a growing business, the finance team will most likely have turned their hand to tasks and roles outside of their day job anyway.

So, it’s not an impossible leap for them to become closer with other parts of the business.

Technology is a key factor enabling this change.

Transforming finance – How your finance team can add more value to your business

Many finance processes can now be automated and the verification of data reduced to checking exceptions.

The information can also be manipulated more and moulded as required. This can free up finance staff to provide deeper advisory services throughout the rest of the business.

Underpinning this building of relationships across the business there also needs to be a strong foundation of reliable, timely and appropriate data – which modern cloud-based systems can now provide.

With an open-minded approach to the transferability of skills, the finance team can get involved in all parts of the business: from undertaking competitor analysis, to helping a warehouse-driven business better manage inventory.

That’s not to say there won’t still be a need to employ people with core technical competencies, such as auditing systems, compiling information and fraud.

However, with a modern finance system in place and many processes automated without the need for much manual intervention, it will be easier to utilise finance staff around other parts of the business.

This change also means executives and hiring managers in startups need to think about the profile of the finance professionals they recruit. Soft skills and attitude will be as important as technical accounting know-how.

But it is an exciting prospect that offers great rewards.

By turning finance from a backwards-facing compliance-oriented function to a strategic advisor and true business partner, start-ups can gain vital insight and advice on business performance and quickly identify new opportunities or areas of concern.

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