Laurent Charpentier, CEO at Yooz
There have been plenty of challenges for finance leaders during the past 12 months. If it’s not a recession, cost of living crisis, and increases in energy and operating costs, it’s skills shortages or rising corporation tax.
As we start to enter 2023, many finance leaders will be wanting to turn a new leaf, and indeed their backs, on 2022. Yet these will remain critical issues throughout the year. Left unchecked, they could disrupt businesses for far longer.
29% of UK finance leaders said attracting and retaining talented staff has become their biggest concern right now, just ahead of remote/home working practices (28%) and strengthening cybersecurity practices (27%), according to recent research. So, what can be done to solve these issues in the new year?
- Automation helping fill skills gaps
A global shortage of digitally skilled professionals as well as a post-pandemic power shift in employee demands have created a recipe that’s currently leaving a sour taste in business leaders’ mouths. But the technology businesses use could be an unlikely hero in the battle to bridge the skills gap.
When it comes to hiring new employees, finding people with the necessary skills (40%) is the biggest challenge, more so than being able to meet wage demands (39%) and offering flexible/home working preferences (37%).
Competition for new talent is fierce, but throwing money at the situation isn’t the answer. Employees want a purpose, not just a job, and businesses can ill afford to increase spending during a period of economic uncertainty.
The situation is driving finance leaders to look at more efficient ways of operation – doing more with what they have right now.Not only is leading businesses to increase their use of automated tools, but by adding new technologies, they can also help attract and retain top talent.
It could be something as simple as offering a brand new laptop or smartphone to show that your company prioritises flexible and hybrid work. But it could also cover critical, back-end systems such as automated processes and workflows that help take away stressful or repetitive tasks.
Many accounts payable staff are still shackled by outdated and manual processes, spending hours on basic data entry tasks, scanning documents, or managing invoices. By automating these tasks, not only could businesses realise new efficiencies during a hiring crisis, but they can also liberate staff in their current role – increasing general happiness and company culture.
- Tech can make remote working more productive
Despite plenty of benefits surrounding the ‘new way of working’, we’re yet to see its true potential. But coupled with automation and the removal of time-consuming processes, remote working could get a lot more productive.
The benefits of remote and hybrid working have been clear. Staff are content with having a better work-life balance and can spend the hours they would normally be commuting by starting and finishing work earlier. Businesses meanwhile can save thousands of pounds in operating costs while increasing productivity.
But while over a third (36%) of finance leaders say they have been more productive moving to remote working, yet 37% said they have been working just as efficiently and 18% that work has been less productive. And although just 7% said they haven’t got the technology needed to work remotely, around half (47%) are still having issues processing invoices from home.
Because, despite the large uptake of remote or hybrid working environments across the world, several teething problems have yet to be properly ironed out. For example, although finance teams now have access to remote and cloud technology, productivity will never increase as long as manual processes are still being used.
Moving from the board room to the kitchen table hasn’t changed the way staff truly operate. Sure, systems such as Slack, Teams, and Zoom have helped keep colleagues in constant communication, but what about the critical processes in the background?
Digital tools and cloud-based systems are a must for remote working, but as many accounting and finance departments are still reliant on manual processes and even paper documents, it makes remote working tougher than it needs to be.
And not only can Cloud-based systems allow staff to work wherever they want, but it also means better security. Financial documents digitally stored in password-protected systems and two-factor authentication ensure only those responsible have access to information.
- Prevent fraud
The risk of fraud is always lingering for finance leaders. But with automation by their side, staff can feel at ease knowing they have a safe and secure system that keeps money within the business and away from criminals.
Staff moving to remote working locations has increased the risk of fraud. We’re no longer able to determine if the person at the other end of the email exchange is really who they say they are, while other phishing-related attempts are becoming a lot more sophisticated and therefore successful.
The most common methods of fraud within finance include fake bills and receipts, tampered invoices, and emails pretending to be from finance leaders that trick staff into sending money. An example within accounts payable might be an invoice that lists a bank account number and sort code that doesn’t match up with previous payments made to the same supplier.
To combat this, adding automation into accounts payable means that all finance activity is held centrally in one place, providing staff with a full, real-time view of the entire payment process. Staff can better identify any suspicious activity and quickly go through the necessary steps to prevent fraud from taking place before payments are sent.
For example, staff are unlikely to remember every supplier’s sort code and account number, which is why methods such as three-way matching need to be implemented. By using AI and machine learning to compare invoice data with relevant purchase order numbers and receipts, fraudulent activity is swiftly identified and prevented.
Not only does this stop the chances of fraud from taking place, but it also helps stop the likelihood of duplicate payments or paying out for the wrong amount. The automated system check invoices against purchase order numbers and receipts to make sure that everything is 100% correct before approving the payment.
Solving key finance issues in 2023
As skills shortages, remote working, and fraud continue to threaten businesses in 2023 – as well as inflation and a cost of living crisis – finance leaders that are embracing technology will be the ones best placed to deal with any disruption.
But embracing the continued digitalisation of the finance function and implementing automation for day-to-day tasks won’t just allow businesses to survive. Realising new levels of productivity, efficiency, and security will see many thrive long past the new year, outpacing competitors during a challenging period.