When you think of today’s Finance and Accounting (F&A) organizations, a great customer experience is not typically the first thing that springs to mind. Hampered by outdated technology, inefficient processes and a lack of resources to drive innovation, F&A organizations are often viewed by other parts of the business as being exceedingly and unnecessarily difficult to work with. Consider the salesperson who spends hours each week submitting expense reports – painstakingly gathering, PDF’ing and uploading receipts one by one, accessing an intranet portal and categorizing expenses line-by-line.
This stereotypical view of the F&A organization is changing, and the change is being driven largely by the emerging As-a-Service economy that demands a focus on real-time financials and the ability to deliver relevant and timely information to intended audiences. In a related vein, enhancing the experience for end users who interact with F&A is becoming an increasingly high priority. This focus reflects, at least in part, a new reality of redefined expectations. Salespeople who become accustomed to checking their bank balances from their smartphones, or depositing and withdrawing funds without handling paper or entering a branch, will have little patience with an accounting department that requires endless paper-shuffling and hoop-jumping just to file an expense report.
But there’s more at stake than keeping employees happy. If purchasing a simple piece of office equipment becomes a Kafkaesque experience for business users, those users will circumvent procurement guidelines to get what they need. For the procurement department, that means decreased compliance, which leads to value leakage and a loss of efficiency. On the other hand, if dealing with procurement is as seamless as dealing with Amazon, users will have less reason to go off the reservation.
To accommodate this new reality, F&A organizations must look beyond back-office enhancements and internal F&A functional improvements and leverage digital technology capabilities and fundamental process redesign. It’s no longer sufficient to apply automation tools to existing F&A processes to reduce costs and make the department run faster and smoother. Rather, CFOs must redesign those processes from scratch, and place the customer at the center of that redesign effort. The approach is quite simple – talk to business customers and end users of F&A services. Ask them what they would like their experience with F&A to look like. Such an exercise results in a completely different view of how finance should be organized.
A customer-centric approach creates a completely different experience for the business user, one characterized by multi-channel access, responsiveness, simplicity, intuitiveness and personalization. In a digitally enabled environment, the salesperson filing an expense report accesses a dashboard on a mobile phone, clicks on a camera phone to capture a receipt and then clicks again to route the expense to a manager for approval.
Global businesses today are challenging the whole notion of the traditional F&A function. Seeking to leverage technology, people skills and process optimization to transform their operations, CFOs aim to provide a new level of value to the business in terms of enhancing the customer experience and providing critical insight through data analysis and presentation.
Read my new ISG white paper What is Digital F&A and Why Should CFOs Care: Enhancing the Customer Experience and Delivering Critical Insights – co-authored by Nikhil Anand at EXL Service – about how digital transformation can enable CFOs to deliver a positive experience to internal customers as well as provide the business with actionable data that enhances operational efficiency, addresses critical requirements and delivers a competitive advantage.