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Roundtable report: Enhancing efficiency and fostering strategic growth

CFOs note the significance of testing new technologies before expanding their application, which questions the conventional approach to change management. By continually improving, exploring, and using data-driven insights, finance teams can find innovative ways to generate impact and value

Roundtable report: Enhancing efficiency and fostering strategic growth

In the fast-paced business landscape, finance leaders face mounting pressure to make swift strategic decisions in the face of unforeseen challenges and opportunities.

To meet these demands head-on, it is imperative for senior finance leaders to drive continuous improvements in company-wide efficiency, empowering their finance teams to effectively support their decision-making endeavours.

By optimising various finance functions, a world of possibilities can be unlocked allowing finance leaders to focus their valuable time and expertise on strategic initiatives that truly drive organisational value.

On July 4, 2023, The CFO, in partnership with Kloo, hosted a group of senior finances leaders to discuss how to enhance efficiency and foster strategic growth in a virtual roundtable. The discussion was led by Premal Parekh, CFO/FD and head of Transformation & Investments, Operations at the London Stock Exchange Group (LSEG), supported by Tim Baker, Co-Founder, at Kloo.

The session was conducted under Chatham House Rules so while this write-up will include key discussion points and takeaways, all participants are anonymised.

Kloo’s Baker began the discussion by providing an overview of the company’s AI-powered accounts payable automation platform. Kloo offer a comprehensive suite of products, including procurement, invoice management, and flexible payment solutions, aiming to enhance the efficiency of finance teams and improve decision-making through automation and generative AI.

The group then shared what they aimed to takeaway from the discussion, with one participant sharing that their interest in the topic had stemmed from their experience in building a marketing technology business that had highlighted the need for improved communication between marketing and finance teams to optimise budget allocation.

Other participants expressed their interest to share insights, discuss challenges, and learn from one another’s experiences in navigating the changing role of finance teams considering technological advancements.

Driving efficiency in finance

The discussion began with the group highlighting the need to make finance teams more efficient in the face of acquisitions, consolidations, and a fast-paced business landscape. The participants shared their experiences and thoughts on streamlining processes, integrating systems, and leveraging new technologies for better decision-making and error reduction.

One roundtable participant highlighted the need for consolidation and centralisation in their acquisitive business, as maintaining multiple finance teams would be costly and unsustainable. However, they mentioned a lack of specific direction from their executive committee regarding centralisation or outsourcing activities.

The group further touched on the challenges of integration after acquiring companies and the importance of understanding people, processes, and technology to identify areas for automation and improvement. They emphasised the need to minimise manual intervention and errors by leveraging automation tools such as robotic process automation (RPA) and integrating disparate ERP systems.

The importance of tech champions

The importance of leadership and clear mandates in driving digital transformation was also emphasised during the discussion. It was acknowledged that while advanced systems are available, without the right leadership, skilled personnel, and a focus on integrity, the transformation efforts may be hindered or incomplete.

Furthermore, the participants emphasised the role of knowledgeable champions within finance teams who are committed to driving change and embracing automation. They highlighted the importance of investing time and effort rather than solely focusing on monetary investments.

The consensus was that finding the right individuals who are dedicated to making a difference within the organisation is crucial.

Streamlining time-consuming processes

The conversation then shifted to the challenges faced by finance teams, particularly the time-consuming nature of year-end and month-end processes. The pressure to report regularly, including weekly and monthly reports, along with additional year-end responsibilities, often leaves little time for finance leaders to explore new technologies and streamline processes.

One roundtable participant expressed curiosity about how other organisations have managed to overcome these challenges.

In response, another participant shared their experience of transitioning from a lengthy month-end process to a more streamlined one. They stressed the need to align processes and reduce the time spent on month-end tasks, emphasising the importance of planning and considering individual-level changes before embarking on major transformations.

The participant encouraged the other finance leaders to explore different approaches to simplify or eliminate unnecessary processes, and focus on refining skills to adapt to future requirements.

Integration of RPA

The group spent a large proportion of the roundtable discussing the topic of automation, specifically focusing on AI and RPA  integration projects. The participants emphasised the importance of understanding their existing processes and their impact on the organisation before implementing automation technologies.

They acknowledged that large companies are currently caught up in the hype surrounding AI and emphasised the need for alignment between technology and organisational culture to drive successful outcomes. The group highlighted the significance of identifying quick wins and automating labour-intensive tasks to bring about positive change without disrupting day-to-day operations.

It was emphasised that this approach is applicable not only in finance but also in other areas such as marketing, sales, and operations. The participants discussed how RPA can be especially beneficial where repetitive processes can be automated to enable employees to focus on higher-value tasks.

The roundtable participants also discussed the importance of top-down sponsorship and the involvement of key stakeholders in driving the digital agenda. They highlight the need for stakeholders to understand the current situation and the desired future state to facilitate successful transformation.

The potential impact of automation on job roles was mentioned, with the expectation that while some jobs may be lost, others will be created, necessitating a shift in individuals’ skills and business strategies.

The emergence of Generative AI

The group also discussed the potential of generative AI and other emerging technologies to unlock new levels of efficiency and decision-making in finance. They emphasised the value of technology providing precise context and information to facilitate better decision-making processes, such as matching purchase orders and invoices or accessing budgetary information in real time.

One participant gave an example of automating budget analysis by utilising generative AI to extract relevant data and provide insights on budgetary concerns. This approach not only automates tasks but also improves decision-making and reduces errors.

Final thoughts

In conclusion, the roundtable participants recognised the significance of moving beyond mundane tasks and embracing automation to unlock higher-value, strategic work. They emphasised the need for aligning automation efforts with organisational needs, identifying quick wins, and driving efficiency.

The participants stressed the importance of experimenting with new technologies before scaling them up, challenging the traditional change management approach. Through continuous improvement, exploration, and data-driven insights, finance teams can discover new ways to drive impact and value.

Kloo’s AI-powered accounts payable automation platform aligns perfectly with the participants’ shared goals, providing a powerful solution to optimise accounting operations and drive successful digital transformation.

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